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Spatial planning for development planners in Sierra Leone

11 January 2016 Author:

Next month, my consultancy Turley, working with development planning officer Abdul Karim Marah of Freetown City Council, will provide a workshop on spatial planning for all 19 development planners in Sierra Leone in West Africa. This blog explains why this work is so needed.

The role of development planners in Sierra Leone is often reactive and focussed on short-term goals and relief efforts. This is not surprising given that at the end of the civil war in 2002 Sierra Leone was officially the poorest nation on earth. Nevertheless, they are experienced in acting as coordinators, integrators and mediators.

Interestingly, the planning systems in Sierra Leone and the UK share a common heritage, being based on the same 1947 Act. Whilst the systems have evolved differently with variations in how development is planned and regulated, the principles of good planning still apply and transcend legislation. However, there are only 19 full time planning officers in the country, compared to 21,378 chartered town planners in the UK (according to RTPI figures).

Since 2012, teams from Turley have visited Freetown to work with Mission Direct, and I am currently working with charity Home Leone on a new settlement project outside the capital that will allow people to move out of areas that are hit by floods each year, when many lives are lost.

The workshop will introduce practitioners to the concept of spatial planning and explore how it can be applied to enhance the social, economic and environmental aspects of society in Sierra Leone in the medium and long-term.

The workshop aims to look at the potential of applying those skills to the spatial dimensions of wider policy streams in the longer term. This broader role represents an explicit extension of the scope of development planners beyond its traditional focus on regulation, control and monitoring land use and physical change within localities. Equipping planners to support ‘sustainable development’ and to help create ‘sustainable communities’.

Bob May With Abdul Outside FCC Planning2

The February visit to Freetown builds on three previous trips arranged by the Turley Charitable Trust. As well as building relationships with planning colleagues in Sierra Leone, previous teams have made significant contributions to local building projects. A vocational centre funded and built by the team is now being used to train the countries future electricians, plumbers, builder and mechanics. A maternity ward, started by a team in 2014 was converted to an Ebola centre during the recent crisis.

Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola on the 8th November 2015 and is now in its third month of no reported cases. Nine thousand cases were reported during the outbreak and over a third of those died. This year the team will return to complete the fit-out of the new wing of the Waterloo community, work with the Nehemiah Lifelines school for orphaned child soldiers and street children and spend time with Ebola orphans.

Over the longer-term, as Turley Charitable Trust Chair I am working in partnership with Home Leone to facilitate trips of volunteers from UK built environment professionals and companies to spend time building housing, schools and employment buildings in the new settlement project. Alongside construction the project aims to assist enhancing built environment skills in the nation. The skills of urban planners, transport planners, surveyors and architects are obviously much needed.

If this appeals to you as part of your organisation’s CSR programme, please do get in touch at