“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” ~ Aldo Leopold
Ghana has a rich and diverse landscape, with varied topography, climate, and natural resources. To ensure sustainable development and protect the environment, the country has enacted a range of laws and regulations governing land use and planning.
In Ghana, land use and planning laws are primarily governed by the Land Use and Spatial Planning Act, 2016 (Act 925), which repealed and replaced the Town and Country Planning Act, 1960 (Act 64) under the auspices of the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority (LUSPA), mandated to ensure the sustainable development of land and human settlements through a decentralized planning system amongst others. They are to ensure that, the District Assemblies in collaboration with the development institutions perform site and service programs for the purpose of development
This article will provide an overview of the laws that regulate land use and planning in Ghana, including land ownership, zoning regulations, building permits, and environmental impact regulations.
- Legal Framework
Ghana has laws and regulations governing land use and planning, primarily the Land Use and Spatial Planning Act, 2016 (Act 925), Zoning and Land Use Regulations, 2019 (LI 2384), the National Building Regulations, 1996 and the Local Government Act, 2016.
These laws cover issues such as land ownership, zoning regulations, building permits, and environmental impact assessments. These laws also aim to ensure that development activities in Ghana are conducted in a safe, sustainable, and environmentally friendly manner.
In summary, while ACT 925 provides a comprehensive legal framework for regulating and managing land use and planning in Ghana, the Zoning and Land Use Regulations, 2019 (LI 2384) provides detailed guidelines for preparing and implementing zoning plans in Ghana.
- Land Ownership in Ghana
In Ghana, land ownership is regulated by the Land Act 2020 (ACT 1036), which recognizes two types of land: public land and private land. Public land is owned by the state and can be used for public purposes, such as schools, hospitals, and government buildings. Private land, on the other hand, is owned by individuals or organisations and can be used for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes.
Land ownership is a critical aspect of land use and planning in Ghana. The complex system of customary and statutory law governing land ownership in Ghana has significant implications for land use and planning, as it determines who has the right to use and develop land in particular areas.
The Land Act recognizes several types of land ownership, including customary, public, and state land. This has implications for land use and planning, as different types of land ownership may be subject to different regulations and restrictions.
Physical planning units under Metropolitan/Municipal/District Assemblies (MMDAs) use zoning as a tool to specify the appropriate use and kind of development for and on a parcel of land. Zoning establishes the permitted and prohibited uses and developments on a piece of property within a zone, defining the land’s use category.
Ghana’s zoning system varies depending on the specific planning authority responsible for a particular area. However, generally, there are 5 main zoning classifications in Ghana. These are:
- Residential Zone: This zone is designated for residential purposes, and it may include different sub-zones such as single-family residential, multi-family residential, or mixed-use residential.
- Commercial Zone: This zone is designated for commercial activities, including offices, retail stores, restaurants, and other commercial uses.
- Industrial Zone: This zone is designated for industrial activities, including manufacturing plants, warehouses, and other industrial uses.
- Institutional Zone: This zone is designated for public and institutional uses, including schools, hospitals, and other public facilities.
- Special Development Zone: This zone is designated for special developments like the Marine Drive Project at La – Accra. It also contains areas with Historical and Architectural value.
Zoning classifications may also be subject to change over time as the needs of an area change or as new development opportunities arise.
The green belts in Accra would typically fall under the “Open Spaces and Recreational Areas” zone which is a subset of the Special Development zoning scheme. This zone is typically designated for parks, playgrounds, sports facilities, and other open spaces that are used for recreational purposes. Green belts, such as the Achimota Forest Reserve and the Legon Botanical Gardens, would fall under this zone as they provide opportunities for recreation and leisure activities. The Open Spaces and Recreational Areas zone is an important component of the zoning scheme, as it helps to promote healthy and active lifestyles, enhance the quality of life for residents, and provide important ecosystem services, such as regulating the local climate and maintaining biodiversity.
MMDAs deal with assessments of the zoning status of lands and make proposals for re-zoning where necessary. Where the proposed development does not conform to the approved use or zoning scheme, developers may apply for a change of use or rezoning.
Land use plans are prepared to guide physical development over a period of time. During the implementation of the plan, a variety of circumstances can lead to a need to revise the plan to reflect changing function or activity on the land, the forces of the market, or improving standards for a variety of land users. This leads to Rezoning which simply means the process of assigning land or property to a different category of restrictions on use and development. For example: from residential use to commercial use and vice versa.
- Building Permits
To ensure that buildings are constructed safely, Ghana requires building permits for all construction activities. Building permits are issued by the local government authority and require that construction plans be reviewed for compliance with building codes, zoning regulations, and environmental laws.
The Local Governance Act, 2016 (Act 936) stipulates in Section 49 that “No physical development shall be carried out in a district without prior approval in the form of written permission granted by the District Planning Authority”. The law further requires that “every person shall, before constructing a building or other structure or undertaking any work, obtain a permit from the District Planning Authority which shall contain such conditions as the District Planning Authority may consider necessary – Act 936.
Development and Planning permit (Building Permit) is the main instrument for controlling or managing physical development. Development permit in this context refers to permits issued in relation to planning and building applications.
Building codes set out the minimum standards and requirements for the design, construction, and maintenance of buildings, while zoning regulations dictate how the land can be used and developed within certain areas.
To obtain a permit, you will need to submit detailed plans and specifications for your project to your Physical Planning Department (formally the town and country planning department) in your district. Attach the land ownership document from Lands Commission. Also attach four copies of architectural and structural drawings, a certified fire report, and an EPA permit to the Building Permit Application Form from the Assembly.
The Physical Planning Unit in the District/Municipal Assembly to which plans have been submitted may in the exercise of its power under the Local Governance Act, 2016 (Act 936), grant the building permit.
Per the National Building Code of 1995, the period of the validity of a building permit shall ordinarily be five years, except that if the work authorized in the permit is not completed within the time stipulated, the Planning Authority may extend the period on application by the applicant or his agent who must be a person in the building design profession.
You can begin construction once your plans are approved and your permit is issued. It is important to obtain a building permit to avoid fines, penalties, or demolishing of completed buildings without a permit.
By ensuring that new buildings are constructed in a safe, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly manner, these building regulations help to promote the health, safety, and well-being of residents and contribute to the overall development of the country.
- Environmental Impact Regulations
Ghana’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) laws require that all major development projects undergo an EIA before they can be approved. The EIA process involves an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project and the development of measures to mitigate or avoid these impacts.
One of the key laws governing environmental impact assessments in Ghana is the Environmental Assessment Regulations of 1999, which sets out the requirements for environmental impact assessment studies (EIAs) to be conducted prior to the approval of certain development projects.
The Environmental Assessment Regulations require that an EIA be conducted for any development project that is likely to have significant environmental impacts, such as large-scale construction projects, mining activities, or industrial operations.
In addition to the Environmental Assessment Regulations, other environmental laws in Ghana that impact land use and planning include the Water Resources Commission Act of 1996, which regulates the use and management of water resources, and the Ghana Forest and Wildlife Policy of 2012, which aims to protect and conserve Ghana’s flora, and fauna and to promote the rehabilitation and restoration of degraded landscapes through forest plantation development.
Ghana’s land use and planning laws are critical to ensuring that development projects are carried out sustainably and responsibly that benefit both people and the environment. By understanding the various zoning regulations, building permit requirements, and environmental laws that apply to their projects, developers, and planners can help to ensure that their work aligns with the broader goals of sustainable development and environmental protection.
THE WRITER IS A BARRISTER AND SOLICITOR OF THE SUPREME COURT OF GHANA AND A MEMBER OF ZOE, AKYEA & CO LAW FIRM IN LABONE, ACCRA.
HIS LEGAL INTERESTS INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO REAL/PROPERTY LAW, CORPORATE AND COMMERCIAL PRACTICE, CONSTRUCTION LAW, AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION.
CONTACT: [email protected]