Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017
Infrastructure | Africa | Middle East | Morocco

A new concept of urbanism to support the regional development of Morocco


3 years ago
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H.E. Mohannd Laenser

Minister of Urbanism and Town and Country Planning of the Kingdom of Morocco

“Building new towns doesn’t mean just building homes, but building also universities, hospitals, putting trams if necessary as in Casablanca and Rabat, therefore means of communication. I think that here, there is an opportunity for Spanish companies.”

Despite regional political turmoil and the global economic downturn, Morocco is an exception combining remarkably sound political reforms brought by a new constitution and a government of consensus. But also thanks to the implementation of economic reforms, social inclusion, strategic diversification and investment attraction, a set that allows stable economic growth of 4.47% in 2013. I would like to know your vision for the future and also what represented the new constitution of Morocco.

It's true. You're right that for Morocco there have been quite a lot of breaks these last 15 years. There was first a change with the rise to the throne of His Majesty Mohamed VI, and it is a break which was marked by an acceleration of the pace of reforms and development. And there was then this second break in 2011 of the Arab Spring where Morocco had its own response to the street, and we are very pleased, since it actually allowed us not to be engulfed by the difficulties other countries have endured.

But breaks alone are not enough. We must also assume things. The Constitution came, it met the expectations of the street and calmed it down, but we need to go beyond that; it needs to be implemented. And I think that these efforts have been such that Morocco is demonstrating, at all levels, the correctness of the chosen option. At the level of His Majesty the King, who as you know continues to be strongly involved in all development projects, in all development sites. At the level of the government which endorsed this vision of the King and the vision of the Constitution. And that is how today in all areas, it is what you can see, Morocco is evolving and booming I would say.

Sometimes when we talk about a country in evolution, we refer to construction sites, we speak of the economy. But the peculiarity of Morocco since 2011 is that it is occurring at all levels: on the political level there are changes, on the democratic level there are advances that many observers recognize on all fronts and it goes on, and on the development level; and as for the sector which concerns me on the aspect of  control of urbanization. As you very well know, cities are the future of a country, because any economic growth takes place in cities. Cities are the producers of wealth.

There is a very fundamental aspect of the Constitution which is the regionalization of the territory, and there you play a key role.  What is your overall view on Moroccan decentralization and actions to capitalize on the potential of the different regions of the country?

That’s right. When I talked about the Constitution and the application of the Constitution, actually one of its main contributions is going deeper into decentralization. That is to say to give the power of decision and the means of implementation to the populations at the lowest level. The country is too big for development, the municipality too small, and it is necessary to find a suitable size; it is the region. Morocco has regional experience since 1997, but this time we move to a higher stage. And this is where it gets interesting, as everyone works, because for urban planning, we are much more concerned and because tomorrow it will be done in the regions and not in Rabat. Rabat is not going to plan the city of Agadir, of Oujda ... it will be done with the populations.

Of course the draft legislation is ready. It will pass to Parliament shortly. But we must not delude ourselves. The region is something that is learned, it is something that must be gradual. Because the region is not only laws, it is not just a territory; it is also the men and women who will manage this situation. But today there are no reservations. Morocco is ready to take the plunge. Most importantly - why hide it? -, the region is both a request and an aspiration to the people, but it is a political response also to the problems that Morocco faces in the South, in its Sahara. Therefore the region for us is something on which we are focused, that we want to succeed with, and all the conditions for success are there. It will give people the means to develop further, and be competitive on investment. Because this will allow them to look for both Moroccan and foreign investors, not to wait for Morocco’s central government to do the work, but for each region to actually develop. Of course there is always coordination at the central level.

Therefore, will the coordination remain at the central level?

This is normal. For us it is a regionalization. This is an advanced region within the unity of the country. And we do not want to run the risk of certain experiences like in Spain and elsewhere, experiences that Spain is going through. I wish incidentally that it surpasses these small problems in understanding. But actually for us: region yes, in the country’s unity.

Tell us Minister about the projects of urban development, to build the new cities of Morocco, smart cities around citizens and their needs. 

We must remember that today in Morocco, we have nearly 60% of the population living in cities, which we call the urban population. It is expected that within fifteen years, for 2040, we should be approaching 80% of the population in cities.

That raises a first problem: how to manage this urbanization. Of course a city is not only constructions that are added up, it is also how to make these cities a place of quality of life, a place of local democracy too, because unfortunately cities, when they are not well handled, develop many exclusions, a lot of poverty in the margins. And that is somewhat the great challenge of all countries but of Morocco mainly because we have a young population and a rural population that is coming to the cities.

That’s why I can tell you that today when you cross Morocco and you look at Moroccan cities, there are a lot of programs that we call upgrades of cities. But not just upgrading to improve the housing environment, it is also to give means and living conditions. When you take the big project of the metropolis, the Tangier-Tétouan tandem, it is thus at the same time the development at the maritime level, the development of tourism, the development of a number of infrastructures – it is several billions of Dirhams – which are being done.  

Casablanca today is also experiencing an upheaval both economically – it is already an economic Capital – and culturally – not later than yesterday was the kick-off of a major theatre in Casablanca –, plus a number of things on the touristic level that are being done. There also it is a very large project. Not to mention that Casablanca will finally become a city within less than 2 hours of Tangiers with the high-speed train that will be put into service in the coming years.

Take Rabat for instance. You have very large projects on the Bouregreg which is going to become a living river, a river where there will be a centre of life and not a river that separates.

So all this creates this urban frame; it creates these urban centers that will spread development in all areas around. Because we must not err when talking about rural world, rural development, poverty: one has the impression that it is necessary to go and distribute. This is not true. There must be strong poles that will spread this development around them. And that is what we are doing in Morocco. And there is work for many companies. There are already many companies that have come, foreign companies, Spanish, French, American, Middle Eastern… Because today this vision of a Morocco developing around urban centers with construction sites that are launched to consolidate is showing interesting outcomes.

You also have projects in the South like the Oasis project for the improvement of social inclusion in the Southern Region

Yes, indeed. When talking about cities we should not forget what there is next to them. Today I am not going to talk about programs in other sectors. You have the Green Morocco Plan for agriculture which is a promising project and begins to yield encouraging results; tourism also, etc.

But the social inclusion problem, both social inclusion but also the environmental impact is something very important for us. The Ministry of Urbanism is well positioned in this issue, because it is the city which generates at the same time exclusions and pollution. Therefore any planning, any management of cities, must take this into account. And we do it. Then we have small projects at the oasis, because that too is the development of the social aspect, of culture, because there are traditions -  one must not destroy the traditions of a country and you know that the culture of palm trees in the oasis is not something that can be done anywhere – so as ministry we are involved because next to urbanism which is town planning, we have the country planning component, which is also a bit all the integrated vision of the focus on sectors, and which allows us to work on rural and mountain areas. We also have a very important social aspect.

We would like to know how you are working with private companies, both national and international. 

We, as a planner ministry, theoretically, we have to say that we are not in direct relation with companies since we make plans, we say what needs to be done, how it should be done. But in fact it is false because all projects need land to be done, whether it's a hotel, whether it's a road, whether it’s a port, all this needs land. And these lands obviously must be provided, should be planned, and sometimes they do not exist in the city, but those outside may not be used if we do not open, if we do not do what is necessary to open the land to urbanization. This is what is called “l’ouverture à l’urbanisation”, openness to urbanization.

And it is in this sense that we are, as ministry, a very important member of the Investment Committee, because large projects in Morocco are the subject of agreements with the State for some advantages; and we are also very present when there are dispensations in urbanism. Because town and country planning is the projection on the future, but we cannot quite anticipate everything down to the centimeter and millimeter: in 10 years, in 15 years, what will happen? So we are somewhat facilitators for investors; we are some sort of facilitator agents. And also suppliers of this raw material which is the land that are actually the spaces. It is therefore in this sense that we are trying to guide investments, to guide investors, and sometimes to facilitate the task or to block it when it can cause problems. You know that all investments - I just talked about environment - are not necessarily bearers of development. They can also destroy the environment.

As you well know Spain has become the largest trading partner of Morocco before France. There are 20,000 Spanish businesses that have relations with Morocco. Spain has 20% of its economy based on construction, and there are a lot of Spanish companies that will come here to share projects. What would you say to Spanish companies to come here to make partnerships with Morocco?

Many Spanish companies have come. Moreover the number is very high and that is very good. I'd say it's natural, we are neighbors. There are no borders. It is not the 14 kilometers of the Strait that is going to make the border.

But I think that where there are many opportunities is in the construction sector for several reasons. Firstly there is the Spanish expertise. It is recognized. Spain has built a lot during the last 30 years. It has developed a very strong and very important know-how. And as it is a business that uses very heavy equipment, proximity is a good thing. It is easier to bring construction companies from Spain, than to make them come from Colombia or elsewhere.

It is not only the construction sector. Spanish companies are here in the field of energy, in road works, a little bit everywhere.

I especially wanted to return to a point we are exploring with our Spanish friends on urbanism and city planning. It is what we call now the geographical information system. That is the computing plans of cities and the preparation of these smart cities. Moreover it is with good reason that Santander became the model of the city, the laboratory actually, because it is not only Spain that does it, it is the whole community, and it is an extremely important laboratory. And now with urbanization which is becoming increasingly strong, with the needs of cities, citizens and communities, the smart city is starting to become a necessity. We had also seminars in Casablanca recently. And in this respect, I think that Spain has an experience to share; moreover we work with a lot of Spanish architect firms on classical planning but we will certainly move a little to that. The 21st of this month there is a seminar precisely on geographical information systems of planning where the Canarians are going to be present because they have also developed a fairly efficient system. When I say Canarians I am talking about Spain in general.

So this is to say that we have very important opportunities for cooperation with Spain on town and country planning

And what does Morocco offer Spain?

It offers a true partnership. No assistance, we are not at that level of asking for assistance. It is a shared mutual interest.

Win-win.

Right, win-win. Morocco requests that it would be real work and good work and expertise. Of course it may sometimes apply for some funding to facilitate, because it happens in all countries which develop investments; money is not in the drawers, it comes later. But what it offers Spain is also to enable its companies to work, to enable this circulation of goods and men. And I think that it's a partnership today on both sides that everyone can appreciate. Just see the relations at all levels between Spain and Morocco: at the policy level, at businessmen level, at the level of the number of firms, to say that the two countries find their interests. And I think that's what we have to look for in the future, the win-win partnership.

And what image do you think that Morocco has in Spain?

To be a bit cynical, I would say that the image Morocco has of the Spain is better than the one Spaniards have of Morocco. Unfortunately we feel sometimes - not from all Spaniards, from some of them - a negative image, which is not real. But Morocco bears a very positive image, honestly very positive, of Spain, of Spaniards. It considers that it is a country with which it deals on a sentimental level - this proximity, this shared culture on certain aspects-, and historically; it is a country with which there has been no big problems. Moreover this aspect is somewhat specific to Morocco towards its former protectors or colonists with whom it never had significant problems, even with France, which is why the relationship continues.

We have a positive image. But sometimes we are a little bit irritated by the behaviour of some communities. I am not speaking of Spain globally nor of Spanish officials but about certain communities. But we surpass that. Between friends, between neighbours, it is quite normal that children bicker from time to time.  

We are here to portray the real image of Morocco through the words of the players of the economy and the country. I would like to ask you: in our last report we didn’t talk a lot about your sector and I would like to know three fundamental elements of your sector you would like us to represent in our report.

This is a sector that can be a locomotive also for economic relations. But we should not look at it in terms of sector. It must be looked at in global terms. You know that we're a very strong stakeholder on new towns. We are currently developing a number of new towns. There are 3 or 4 that are currently underway. Some are completed, others are in progress; there are others which will appear because there is a demographic pressure that I mentioned earlier. Building new towns doesn’t mean just building homes, but building also universities, hospitals, putting trams if necessary as in Casablanca and Rabat, therefore means of communication. I think that here, there is an opportunity for Spanish companies

I said earlier that we are opening a lot. It is true, it is known: Morocco has a deficit in habitat, in housing. We are trying to work to catch up through the major social housing programs. It can also be an opportunity for the construction sector in Spain which has been experiencing some difficulties for some time.

Add to that all the projects where we are indirectly involved. I spoke earlier of the high-speed train. One can say that the high-speed train does not concern urban planning. And yet it does, because anyway, the route of this train, the future of the cities which are going to be crossed, we have to take them into account. It can be displacement, it can be new construction. So we would say that urbanism and the sector of spatial planning is a great facilitator and can be a business opening door with of course other Moroccan partners, whether private or public.



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