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From Sprawling Chaos to Sustainable Urban Growth

The Case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Land-Use & Building Control Regime

Urban sprawl is a significant challenge in many developing countries, including Pakistan, leading to the loss of valuable agricultural land, environmental degradation, and social inequality. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), local governments faced difficulties enforcing building regulations and land-use plans due to limited technical expertise and weak capacity. To address these challenges, the Sub-National Governance (SNG) program partnered with the KP government to develop the ground-breaking KP Land-Use and Building Control (LU&BC) Act, 2021.

 This pioneering legislation aims to regulate land use and building control in KP, curb illegal construction on agricultural land, and promote sustainable urban growth. With SNG’s support, KP enacted the law, establishing the Provincial Land-Use and Building Control Authority, enhancing oversight of land use, and improving urban planning.

SNG/Pakistan/AKhatri: Tehsil Municipal Authority (TMA) workers survey land being developed by an illegal housing society

A collaborative blueprint for sustainable development

The KP LU&BC Act’s success relied on collaboration among stakeholders, including KP Planning & Development and Local Government departments, District/Tehsil Administrations, EPA representatives, and tehsil council chairmen. Initial implementation in five districts (Peshawar, Nowshera, Charsadda, Mardan, and Swabi) resulted in the approval of meticulously crafted master plans for coordinated and systematic development. The Act also inspired KP’s first comprehensive Urban Policy, developed in partnership with SNG, aiming at growth without compromising environmental and social well-being.

Transparency, efficiency, and environmental stewardship

The Act’s impact goes beyond the mere legal framework. Standardized reporting practices and the integration of performance metrics into the KP Local Government Department’s system have enhanced transparency and accountability in land-use management. The involvement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) in the approval of district waste dumping sites, in Haripur, Buner, Mansehra, and Swabi districts, reflects a commitment to environmental stewardship.

SNG/Pakistan/AKhatri: Tehsil Municipal Authority (TMA) workers measure the extent of encroachment by an illegal housing society.

The SNG programme played a critical role by drafting the LU&BC Authority rules, providing technical assistance, and advocating for standardized reporting practices. These efforts included raising climate change awareness, using social media for public outreach, and co-opting EPA representatives in Authority’s decision making. This comprehensive approach aims to protect agricultural land and safeguard public investments, while also preventing fraud perpetrated by unscrupulous land developers and minimizing litigation.

Overcoming challenges

Ensuring implementation of the KP Land-Use Act was not without its challenges: the lack of a supporting legal framework, political instability, delay in the formation of Provincial Land Use & Building Control Council KP, and limited implementation capacity in local governments. The capacity issues included the initial absence of a dedicated Local Planning & Enforcement Unit at the TMA level, a shortage of qualified staff, and resistance from existing officials who needed to adapt to new reporting structures. There was no public awareness, and the absence of detailed rules hampered the enforcement effort. All this led to continued haphazard development and a general disregard for environmental and social considerations.

SNG/Pakistan/AKhatri: Tehsil Municipal Authority (TMA) staff place a notice on the office of an illegal housing society in Haripur, warning them to cease illegal development and to inform general public.

Despite these challenges and bureaucratic delays, the inter-agency collaboration bore fruit. Public awareness campaigns are now being intensified to address knowledge gaps and ensure wider acceptance of the new regulation.

“I’m thrilled to share that Mansehra is among the pioneering districts actively implementing the KP Land-Use Act with technical support from the SNG KP Team. Their support was crucial in the formation of a District Land Use Committee, and subsequent enforcement action against violations of the Act, also leading to the recovery of over Rs. 4 million. Additionally, 126 land-use violations were uncovered, leading to the registration of 14 FIRs against the violators. We are committed to protecting agricultural land and the environment for sustainable growth.”Bilal Shahid Rao, Deputy Commissioner Mansehra.

SNG/Pakistan/AKhatri: Banners are being put up for an awareness campaign against illegal housing societies

The Act’s implementation improved governance at the district level, with centralised and coordinated supervision of land-use activities. District Land-Use Planning & Management Committees conduct monthly reviews of No Objection Certificates (NOCs), issued for land use conversion and development activities, to check their compliance with the provisions of the Act. The SNG team further helped strengthen transparency by developing clear guidelines and reporting formats for the smooth conduct of these committees.

“After becoming Chairman of Tehsil Council Haripur, a major challenge we faced, was regulating the city’s uncontrolled growth and addressing violations by private housing societies. The Land-Use Act has empowered TMA staff to take effective action. Recently, TMA Haripur declared 33 private housing societies, covering an area of 3,600 Kanal, as illegal, protecting the environment and state land worth millions of rupees. I am glad that this action protected citizens from investing in these illegal developments.” – Sami Ullah Khan, Tehsil Chairman Haripur.

SNG/Pakistan/AKhatri: Regular Land Use Committee meetings have allowed for consistent reporting and implementation of the LU&BC Act.

There is a significant increase in the frequency of LU&BC committee meetings in the four districts that SNG supports compared to non-SNG areas, demonstrating stronger implementation of the Act. The consistent focus on implementing the provisions of land-use regulations, complemented by awareness campaigns has led to the identification of 46 illegal housing societies, covering an area of over 770 acres. This highlights the critical role the Act plays in curbing the haphazard urban growth, protecting agricultural land, and safeguarding public investments.

However, the preventive action alone is not enough to deal with the housing issue and SNG is now partnering with Government of KP to develop a provincial housing policy. This policy will serve as a strategic roadmap to provide safe, inclusive, affordable, and sustainable housing options for the people of KP.

The success of the KP Land-Use and Building Control Act, 2021 showcases the importance of collaborative governance and proactive urban planning. Despite challenges, consistent and coordinated efforts have laid a solid foundation for sustainable urban development in KP, setting a model for effective land-use management in other provinces.