Property developers face new tough building rules

Police officers look for survivors after a building collapsed in Kitebi, Rubaga Division in Kampala on August 17, 2021. It was later confirmed that one person died and the body was retrieved from the debris. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

What you need to know:

  • In the new guidelines, all intending developers will apply for development permission and  obtain a development permission certificate

Property developers will have to abide by new tough rules or face penalties under new guidelines by government.
In a January 14 letter to district, urban and sub-county physical planning committees, Mr Vincent Byendaimira on behalf of the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban development, lays out the procedure for granting of building and construction permission. 
In the new guidelines, all intending developers will apply for development permission and  obtain a development permission certificate.
“This certificate shall bear conditions that the development must comply with, including, but not limited to, expected parking provision, building height limitations, and permitted land use,” Mr Byendaimira says. 

 The Lands ministry says the application will not be accompanied by architectural plans or structural drawings but by a development concept prepared by a qualified physical planner. Physical Planners have also been availed guidelines for preparation of a development concept. 
For now, Physical Planning Committees have been directed to charge not more than Shs50,000 depending on the nature of the proposed development. 
“The Ministry,  with the consultation National Physical Planning Board and the National Building Review Board, will provide further guidance on fees to be charged for processing of development applications,” Mr Byendaimira says. 

A survey of buildings in 11 cities across the country, conducted last year, revealed that 78 percent of buildings do not comply with building codes. 
The investigation carried out by the Uganda National Building Review Board (NBRB) covered 3,333 works in progress and 2,606 completed buildings. 
It also looked at the projects’ approved building plans, authorisation to work, occupation permits, professional engagement and drainage system, among other criteria.
The overall compliance level of the active construction sites was at 20 percent, acquisition of building permit at 6 percent while supervision of the building process by professionals at 6 percent. 

In their study titled “Failure of structure in East Africa…” with focus on the causes of failures in the construction phase, Henry Mwanaki, and Stephen Ekolu attribute the collapse of some structures to five key things.
These include poor materials and workmanship, design and construction errors, absence of professional supervision of site-works, wrong implementation of construction methods, neglect of design approval procedures. 
Others are attempts to severely minimise construction cost, neglect of inspection and monitoring by local authorities, influence peddling by proprietors. 
“It is evident that construction failures can be minimised if the right procedures are followed in the design, construction and operation of the structures; a matter that is of interest to stakeholders of the built environment,” they observe. 

In May last year, more than 500 buildings in Kampala were condemned by NBRB and Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), following a massive crackdown on illegal buildings in the five divisions of the city.
The crackdown followed a technical assessment report by the KCCA’s Physical Planning Directorate over the last two years that found out that there are 504 illegal buildings in the five divisions of Kampala, having been constructed without approval by the concerned authorities.
To-date, there is no indication that action has been taken on the condemned buildings even as the Kampala Metropolitan area registered more than 20 deaths due to building collapses. Many of the incidents happened during the rainy season. 

New requirements
Under the new rules developers will have to submit a completed application form with all relevant (accompanying) documents to the relevant authority. The application form, the ministry says, must reflect accurate details of the developer and owner, the proposed development. 
After all the relevant sections are fully completed, the application form will then be submitted to the relevant office of the Physical Planning Authority and acknowledgement note issued to the developer or owner or their agent. 

Owners and developers of existing unapproved developments or buildings will have an opportunity to comply with the new rules by fulfilling a set of conditions.  They will have to present proof of ownership of plot/land by presenting a land title, letter from local council, and duly signed sales agreement with 3 passport photos of the seller/vender. 
They will also submit sketches/plans prepared by a registered architect and these should indicate the location and dimensions of the unapproved development(s)/structure(s) such as the height, roofing material and distances between such other developments onsite and developments on the neighbouring plot/land. They will also require a dully certified report by a surveyor
Importance of new guidelines

 According to the new building guidelines, an application to develop a particular piece of land will not be accompanied by architectural plans or structural drawings but by a development concept prepared by a qualified physical planner.

 This is a novelty that might have new implications in the land development industry. 
Mr Vincent Byendaimira, who authored the letter as acting director of physical planning and urban development at Ministry of Lands and Urban Development, said the new guidelines are aimed at creating clarity between development and building permission to aid the planners and developers on proper land usage and structured development.


Meanwhile, Enock Kibamu, the chairman of National Building Review Board (NBRB), said the development concept is contained in the Physical Planning Act 2010, which regulates land use planning and the Building Control Act, 2013 which regulates designing and building operations. 
In tandem, the development concept guides on how the land will be developed, not necessarily have buildings erected on it, while the design concept explains how the building on a particular land will be. 

Mr Kibamu further explained that the new guidelines will solve the mess of authorities endorsing buildings according to architectural plans, regardless of the environment. 
“We need to end this mess of a church or mosque being built next to a discotheque, among others,” he said. 
Mr Byendaimira added that it is the physical planner’s duty to assess and advise on what the developer intends to do with a particular piece of land. 
 “By the time one submits the architectural plan for a hotel, for instance, they have already invested over Shs7m and will do whatever it takes to have the project happen, but if you submit your application early enough it prevents people from submitting wrong things,” he said.

Mr Byendaimira said since 1997 Uganda has been producing more than 100 physical planners per year, only that the system was not putting them to proper use. 
But Mr Kibamu said there challenge is that there’s no law that defines a qualified physical planner as is the case with architects, engineers and surveyors, among others. 
The two administrators added that the current interim guidelines are part of the Physical Planning Regulations that will be gazetted by Parliament later this year. 
Mr Byendaimira said the changes will automatically lead a rise in costs of the approval process, but the rise should be fair. 


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