Lapses in land use regulation


By Joe Maere:

Land in cities is designated as residential, commercial or industrial. There are also subdivisions in each classification to match interests and use of designated clients.

Segmentation is meant to bring order in operations of related land users and avoid disturbances arising from conflicting interests in activities.


Residential areas are designated for human occupation and such areas include Nyambadwe in Blantyre; Area 43 and Area 10 in Lilongwe and Mulunguzi and Kalimbuka in Zomba.

Commercial areas are meant for offices, trading or any other businesses excluding manufacturing. Commercial areas include such areas as central business districts in cities and office parks. Industrial areas, among others, are Chirimba, Makata and Maone in Blantyre and Kanengo in Lilongwe.

Residential, commercial and industrial areas are further subdivided into use specifics to fit needs of users depending on social-economic leverage.


Residential areas are sub-divided into high density, medium density and low density. Industrial areas are classified as light industrial sites, medium industrial sites and heavy industrial sites. Commercial areas are classified according to service activity involved.

City councils are empowered under law to issue respective licenses to operators apart from collecting city or any other regulatory rates.

Principal to issuance of any licence is inspection, which helps to establish suitability of an activity to an area and licence fees to pay as a consideration for operation. Thus, city councils can accept or reject an activity to operate in an area if it conflicts with locality designation.

For example, Lilongwe City Council Business Licence bylaws of 2018 expressly state that no person shall operate any activity in designated areas of Lilongwe City unless such a person has been issued a licence to operate.

The bylaws further state that issuance of operating licences shall be subsequent to city council’s officer’s inspection for suitability of the areas and facilities at the premises for an activity an operator wants to carry out.

The spirit of this bylaw is to ensure that there is no breach of principle that would end in chaos on part of city dwellers.

However, in cities there is total breach of well spelt out principles of activity designation according to locality. This implies that either inspection was not done or having inspected such premises, responsible officers gave a false report that ended up misleading licensing office accepting wrong activity in an area.

Again, it would mean that those seeking licences are negligent on locality dictates or that something irregular happened that blinded city inspectors from objective judgment.

Residential premises are under siege in our cities by non-governmental organisations. The very vocal advocates of rule of law are breaching city bylaws by renting in undesignated places instead of purpose-built structures in central town.

One just needs to drive around Namiwawa, Mount Pleasant and Areas 43 to confirm this malaise. One wonders if laws can be breached at expense of lower rentals.

Surprisingly, property companies, good tax and city rate payers, for that matter, have dwindling occupancy rate in their purpose-built central town office buildings.

Surely, cities that want to promote industrialisation and urbanisation in the first decade of the Africa 2063 Agenda must support such serious developers by playing rules by the book.

Proliferation of institutional tenants in residential areas is administrative failure by city councils to enforce their own laws.

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