High court orders KCCA to approve Watoto Church redevelopment plans


The High court has reversed government's decision and directed the approval of the mixed-use development plans of Watoto Church, also known as KPC (Kampala Pentecostal Church).

The church, located along Kampala-Bombo road, had sought permission to redevelop the premises which include the historic Norman Cinema, into a 12-storey building comprising a three-star hotel, a 3,000-seater auditorium, a shopping center, and a youth center.[URN]

In 2019, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) declined to issue a permit for the redevelopment, citing the site's classification as a national heritage site. KCCA suggested an alternative plan that would preserve the historical cultural features of Watoto Church. Dissatisfied with the decision, the church appealed to the National Physical Planning Board (NPPB), which concurred with KCCA's recommendation for an inclusive redevelopment plan. 

However, Watoto Church rejected the proposal, asserting that their property was not officially listed as a protected site and therefore they had the right to proceed with the redevelopment. In response, Watoto Church and Kampala Playhouse filed a lawsuit against KCCA and NPPB in 2022, seeking to set aside the government's decision and compel approval of their submitted plans. 

The applicants argued that KCCA and NPPB had failed in their duty to approve the plans, while the respondents contended that the church had indeed been listed as a heritage site in the Museum and Monuments Bill 2022, which was still under government consideration at the time of the court proceedings.

However, in his judgment, acting justice Douglas Karekona Singiza ruled in favour of Watoto Church. The judge set aside KCCA's decision and issued a mandamus order to KCCA and NPPB, directing them to reconsider the mixed-use development plans within three months. Singiza emphasized that without any by-law specifically designating Watoto Church as a national heritage site, it was unreasonable for KCCA and NPPB to reject the church's redevelopment plans.

"The idea that they could hide behind the wings of the other government bodies to reject the Watoto Church and Kampala Playhouse mixed-use development plan was not only illegal but manifestly irrational," ruled Dr Singiza.

The judgment also highlighted that KCCA should enact a by-law within three years to list all properties in the capital city that deserve protection as national heritage sites if it wishes to declare any property as such.   

Additionally, the role of the National Physical Planning Authority (NPPA) in land use planning and control within KCCA should be minimized, as the ministry's provisions are self-executing. It is worth noting that the court's decision came after President Yoweri Museveni assented to the Museum and Monuments Bill 2023, which includes Watoto Church as one of the protected historical sites.

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