What to know about the new construction guidelines

It is illegal to construct a commercial building in a residential area or a factory in a residential area. PHOTO/Rachel Mabala

What you need to know:

A construction plan must have development permission stating the number of floors and provisions for parking in case of an apartment or a commercial building.

Last month, the Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development released procedures. These include what is needed to obtain the necessary licences and permits, required notifications, all necessary inspections and permits before starting a construction project.

The guidelines are aimed at building quality control, evaluating the quality of building regulations, the strength of quality control and safety mechanisms. The ministry is mandated to formulate policies, plans, programmes, and strategies to ensure viability and safety of construction projects. 

According to Vincent Byendamira Ateenyi, the acting director physical planning and urban development at the ministry, before starting construction, every project owner will be required to be cleared by a physical planner after preliminary checks. 

“The physical planner should be part of the physical planning committee from your nearest local government office who understands the area and knows what is acceptable and what is not. Their role is to guide you from the beginning or inception of the development. When they have cleared you, the next stage is to get an architect to prepare building plans which you will submit for approval,” Byendamira says.

The role of a physical planner

Physical planning, according to Villey Agaba, a physical planner from Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) central division, is where you gazette or allocate space for particular purposes, for instance a market, commercial buildings, roads or even the number of plots if the land is big and has to be partitioned. The kind of service a physical planner gives is what is termed as a structural development plan. 

“When you come up with a proposal to develop a plot, we will establish its detailed development plan and its details such as the land tenure system and ownership.  All issues related to your land such as a copy of the land title and a search letter must be submitted to confirm ownership. Information such as whether your land lies in the road reserve is established by the surveyor under the physical planning directorate,” Agaba explains. 

Content of development plan

Agaba explains that a construction plan must have development permission, provisions for parking in case of apartments or a commercial building and the height levels or the number of floors the building should have. Your building, Agaba emphasises, must conform to land use; for instance, it is illegal to construct a commercial building in a residential area or a factory in a residential area.

Planning precedes development

Flavia Bwire, the executive secretary of National Building Review Board (NBRB), says all developments are regulated under the Physical Planning Act and it is wider than just construction. It also tackles the environment and public safety. Bwire notes that just because one owns land, they have no right to use it unless it has been cleared by the National Building Review Board.  She, therefore, suggests seeking clearance before engaging the services of an architect to make plans for a project that might never be given the green light.

“We are going to ensure that buildings come up in areas they have been planned for.  We are reorganising the country as per the preamble of the Building Control Act. It is an act to consolidate, harmonise and amend the law relating to the erection of buildings to provide for building standards, to promote and ensure planned, decent and safe building structures that are developed in harmony with the environment. Let the planning happen and the building come next. Let no construction take place where it is not planned,” Bwire urges, giving a scenario of residential buildings that were submerged on the shores of Lake Victoria in 2020 when the water levels rose.

Bwire also advises that in case of change in the usage of the land as stated in the land title, one should get fresh approval from the physical planning committee for it.

Architectural drawings

According to Byendamira, attaining building plans before formal clearance is an unnecessary expense. “Imagine you have submitted building plans after spending Shs200m on them and they are rejected, you will lose money. Physical planners have standards that if you are planning to set up any building, you need a befitting parking size. Building plans will be required once the development is approved. At this stage, you will then get an architect to prepare the building plan and submit it to the building committee for consideration,” he says.

Dealing with defaulters  

Some project owners sometimes change plans along the way and stray from the approved development concept. Bwire says the concerned authorities have put in place mechanisms to curb such tendencies.

 “After the design is complete, the responsibility then lies in the hands of the designer who signs and stamps the drawing as per the building control regulations unless they withdraw from the process. It is by default to monitor the building to ensure it conforms to the terms and conditions of the planning and building approvals. If you disagree with the developer or the developer starts work and they have not informed you, inform the local authorities that you are no longer part of the process,” Bwire says.

The public is also urged to interest themselves with developments taking place in their surroundings. If you find a site you suspect to be risky or dangerous to the community, call toll free number 0800 220 746 and report the case.

“If you ignore what you perceive to be risky and dangerous to the community, know that you or a loved one will one day be affected by this oversight,” Bwire warns.

Then also, if you develop in a gazetted road reserve, your building will be demolished. The distance between your land and the road reserve depends on the type of road. Different roads, for instance national roads, have prescribed distances from your land to the road reserve that must not be encroached on.   

Physical Planners Registration Bill

Byendamira says the law currently recognises a qualified physical planner to prepare a development concept before the Physical Planners Registration Bill becomes a law as it is currently before Parliament.

One of the schedules in the Physical Planning Act (PPA) that introduces PPA 1, is a form that one fills when applying for development permission, which should be attached to  the concept and other forms, prepared and signed off by a qualified physical planner. When the law is passed, it will be amended to refer to a registered physical planner.

The Shs50,000 fee for development permits that was stated in the new construction guidelines, Byendamira says, is an interim cost that was set by the ministry to be affordable across the country by all developers.