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Conflict in county, NCA roles hurting quality of buildings

By Shammah Kiteme | January 16th 2021 at 12:44:53 GMT +0300

The Fourth Schedule of our Constitution sets out the distribution of roles between the national and county governments. Housing policy and the general principles of planning and the coordination of planning by the counties is the responsibility of national government while planning and development in counties is the responsibility of county governments.
 
The Physical Land Use Planning Act regulates the development of land. It, among others, aims to ensure optimal land use as well as managing human settlements at the national level. 
 
As per the law, counties are expected to identify proper zones for industrial, commercial, residential and social developments. They are supposed to come up with diagrams, illustrations and description of current and anticipated developments in the county.
 
Overall, the Act stipulates the principles of development control. Ordinarily, development control involves managing the type of development in local areas. Any person intending to build is expected to apply to the county for approval. Once approval is granted, the developer can then build or erect the structure as desired. The work of the county authorities is to ensure orderly physical and land use development.
 
On the other hand, construction of a building or any other development is subject to the approval and issuance of construction permit by the National Construction Authority (NCA). 
 
This is building control which is supposed to ensure minimum standards are met for design, construction and alterations. The relevant law here is the National Building Regulations or the building code. NCA is supposed to enforce the building code by ensuring all the construction activities are carried out within provisions of the law. In enforcing the building code, NCA is expected to ensure qualified and licenced professionals are involved in design and supervision during construction. The NCA also ensures the person carrying out the construction is a registered contractor.
 
This is where ambiguity in law comes in. While the NCA enforces the construction quality standards, the county government is supposed to issue a certificate of occupation once it has certified the building is complete. It should be the responsibility of the authority to issue a certificate of occupation since they are able to ascertain that the construction was carried out accordingly.  
 
With no capacity in terms of qualified professionals, counties have performed dismally in enforcing standards. It is no surprise therefore that buildings have been collapsing while under construction or after construction is completed and buildings occupied. Other buildings have been condemned after inspection by the National Building Inspectorate.
 
 
The responsibility of development control should end at ensuring the building is done within the proper zoning guidelines. That is where the responsibility of NCA.
 
County governments should have at least three departments to expeditiously facilitate development and building control. A planning department should implement the county land use planning to ensure we build at the right place and erect the correct buildings. An industry shouldn’t be built in a residential area, while an estate shouldn’t emerge without social amenities like schools.
 
Engineering drawings
 
Secondly, the County Architecture Department should be involved in looking at all the architectural drawings submitted for approval. The department should ensure they meet the minimum standards of the building code.
 
Counties should also have a County Engineer’s department which should check all engineering drawings and ensure they meet structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical design requirements.
 
NCA enforcement role augmented by the counties should ensure that all buildings comply with the building code. This way, we will have orderly development that guarantees health and wellbeing of occupants of buildings.
 
As it is, conflict in laws, people without capacity to check submitted designs and corruption have hampered development and building control in many counties. 
 
I have pursued a building approval for over a year. This is frustrating to the developer, the professionals involved and limits development in the building sector.
 
The laws should be clarified, the right professionals involved for development control and building control and counties as well as the NCA’s capacity enhanced to bring sanity to the building sector.
 
-Mr Kiteme is a civil structural engineer practising in Nairobi. [email protected]

National Construction Authority NCA
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