KAMPALA, UGANDA: The High Court Civil Division in Kampala has ordered Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the National Physical Planning Board (NPPB) to allow Watoto Church to proceed with its plan of demolishing the current downtown structure and replace it with a new building as a redevelopment within the city.
DailyExpress last week reported that Watoto through its lawyer Francis Gimara of ALP Advocates had dragged KCCA and the Planning Board to court protesting the decision to reject its plans for the new structure yet they had made changes as requested.
Now in a ruling delivered on Friday, July 07, the High Court Civil Division Judge, Justice Douglas Singiza noted that there was no enabling law that KCCA relied upon to list Watoto Church’s current Downtown building as one of the national heritage buildings in the city as a basis to reject their bid for redevelopment of the property.
“It is my judgment that the absence of any by-law by KCCA listing the Watoto Church property as a national heritage is unreasonably wrong for KCCA and the NPPB not to approve the mixed-use development plans of the Watoto Church,” Justice Singinza ruled.
“The decision to reject the mixed-use plans of the Watoto Church and Kampala playhouse by the KCCA and the NPPB is reviewed and set aside on account that the decision was procedurally illegal and improper,” he added.
The judge further observed that the idea of KCCA and NPPB hiding behind the ‘wings’ of other government bodies to reject the Watoto Church and Kampala Playhouse mixed-use development plan was not only illegal but manifestly irrational.
He, therefore, directed KCCA and the NPPB to within three months reconsider the Watoto Church mixed-use development plans application from the date of his ruling.
According to the proposed development plan, Watoto seeks to replace the old KPC Building with a 12-storeyed building dubbed Kampala Playhouse, that will feature; a three-star hotel, a 3,000-seater auditorium, a shopping centre and a youth centre.
Watoto acquired the historic Norman Cinema building popularly known as KPC in 1984 under the leadership of Canadian Evangelist and former Team leader Pastor Gary Skinner.
In 2010, the church embarked on an effort to redevelop the property and transform it into a modern building with additional reveal streams for the ministry.
In 2019, the church through its architects (Kampala playhouse) submitted the development plans to KCCA for approval, but the latter rejected the proposed plan citing that the mixed-use plans would obliterate the Church building which has features of cultural significance.
Watoto Church then engaged the NPPB in its quest for approval, which request was too rejected, with the planning board instead advising KCCA and Watoto Church management to cooperate in finding an agreeable position.
The management of Watoto Church insisted that their church building was not listed under any statutory instrument as required by law as a national heritage site.
Ms Anita Kusiima, the acting deputy director of physical planning at KCCA was hesitant to share updates on the negotiations with Watoto management, but, however, reaffirmed that Watoto had submitted its redevelopment plans and that the matter of the preservation of the building was being handled by the authority’s legal directorate.
“I don’t want to comment on Watoto Church but yes they submitted plans and it’s being handled by our legal department,” Ms Kusiima said in an interview with this publication last year.
Justice Singiza, therefore, awarded costs to Watoto Church and Kampala Playhouse for having presented a solid case and went ahead and ordered KCCA to foot all their legal costs.
The judge also ordered that the properties to be listed should be compulsorily acquired and the owners compensated first as required under the law and further ordered KCCA to enact a by-law within a period of three years listing all the properties that should be protected as a national heritage site.
Mr Francis Gimara of ALP Advocates, who represented Watoto Church in court, welcomed the decision.
“It’s an unfortunate case where KCCA was not using any law to make a decision that does not have a legal basis and the same affected the 30 million-dollar project of my client,” Mr Gimara said.