4 Mandatory Construction Approvals in Kenya
Construction approvals/permits are issued by the government through its established bodies and ministries.
By definition, a construction permit is a document issued by a local government authority to authorise the construction of a new building or to amend and renovate an existing building. It is the government permitting you to undertake construction works on a specific site.
Also, it is a legal requirement that all construction projects must undergo a permitting process before they start getting built. If you are planning to build, I will advise you to first get the relevant approvals before you start any work on site.
With that said, the following are the entities that issue the four mandatory construction approvals in Kenya:
- Your County Government’s Physical Planning Office
- Public Health Office
- National Environmental Management Authority, popularly known as NEMA
- National Construction Authority, abbreviated as NCA
Let’s take a closer examination at each body and the processes involved for construction projects to get approved.
Construction Approvals from the County Planning Office
The first stop after getting your drawings is to seek approval from the county government. You will do this through the physical planning department.
Most of the counties follow a manual process where the architect, on behalf of the client, submits architectural drawings for approval. Other counties such as Nairobi City County and Kiambu county have adopted an electronic system called the e-permitting system.
This process requires submission of the following documents together with the necessary payments as the planning office may prescribe:
- Architectural drawings
- Structural drawings
- Land ownership documents such as the title deed
- Land dates clearance certificate
- Less than three months old land search document
- Survey map obtained from the survey of Kenya
Once a submission is successful, the architect will get notified. If the architectural drawings are approved without requiring any alterations or amendments, the structural drawings are then submitted.
Nevertheless, both the e-permitting process and the manual submission process requires hard copy blueprints to be manually stamped and signed by the planner in charge.
Section 29 of the Physical Planning Act gives powers to the local authorities to consider and approve all the development applications and grant all the development permits.
Further, the law makes it illegal for any person to carry out any development in any area without first obtaining the necessary approvals from the local authorities.
Now that you have already obtained approvals from the county planning office, it is not yet time to start building your project. You should make sure that you have obtained all the relevant approvals and permits before any work starts on site. This will help you avoid getting into loggerheads with the law.
Your next stop is the public health office.
Approvals from the Public Health Office
To begin with, public health is concerned with sanitation and housing standards. This is governed by the Public Health Act.
The law prescribes the standards that any building should uphold to ensure the safety and health of its occupants is taken care of.
Therefore, all new buildings must go through thorough checking by the public health department. The aim is to scrutinize the design to verify whether adequate space has been allocated for the occupants. Incidences of overcrowding are undesirable.
Further, public health is also concerned with waste disposal. How safely is the waste being generated by our new buildings being disposed of? Does the design factor in waste management strategies like having a septic tank, the relevant drainage systems and manholes in place?
That being said, you are required to submit your drawings to the public health office for approval. The office usually changes the number of fees depending on the size and scale of your proposed construction project.
If your drawings have been successfully approved, they will be stamped and the date of approval is indicated on the hard-copy blueprints. This will allow you to proceed to the next step in obtaining construction approvals.
Construction Approvals by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA)
The National Environmental Management Authority is also a key government regulatory authority in the process of obtaining construction approvals.
It is established under the Environmental Management and Coordination Act, Chapter 387 Laws of Kenya.
The Environmental Management and Coordination ( Strategic Assessment, Integrated Impact Assessment and Audit) Regulations of 2018 strictly stipulate that no person shall implement any project which is likely to have any negative environmental impact.
Consequently, all construction projects are required to obtain licences from the NEMA office before any construction begins. The process is initiated by the project owner (proponent), who engages an environmental impact assessment and audit expert licensed by NEMA.
This expert will visit the proposed construction site for a study. They will then prepare an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report. This report together with the set of drawings as approved by the physical planning and the public health offices are submitted to NEMA for evaluation.
Officials from the NEMA office will visit the proposed construction site for their preliminary study before deciding whether to accept or reject the application. Once an application is accepted, a project licence will be issued agreeing that NEMA has authorised the project to get constructed.
This means that they are fully satisfied that the project has the minimum impact on the environment. Also, that the project owner and the contractor have developed a comprehensive plan to avert the detrimental effects that the construction of the project might pose to the surroundings.
These include noise mitigation plans, waste disposal and management plan, reforestation efforts, among other efforts.
With the NEMA project license issued, you are ready to proceed to the National Construction Authority for the final go-ahead.
National Construction Authority(NCA) Project Registration
The National Construction Authority (NCA) was established by the National Construction Authority Act No. 41 of 2011 – Laws of Kenya. Its main mandate is to oversee the construction industry and coordinate its development.
As part of its work, the authority carries out the registration of contractors, training and accreditation of skilled construction workers and site supervisors and registration of construction projects.
Investigation officers employed by the authority are mandated by the Act to visits construction sites and carry out inspections. This is supposed to be done to ascertain whether any ongoing construction complies with the National Construction Authority Regulations of 2014.
If you are planning to construct your house or any commercial building, the law requires you to obtain permission from the authority. This is done by registering the project with authority.
The Project Registration Process
After obtaining approvals from the County Planning office, Public health office and NEMA, you will use those documents to obtain a project compliance certificate from the National Construction Authority.
As the project owner (developer) you are required to create an account in the online project registration portal. If you are not well conversant with the process you can ask your contractor, architect or any other person you trust to do it for you.
You will be required to submit the following documents for your project to get approved:
- Approved architectural and structural drawings (and Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing drawings if available for the project)
- Bills of quantities
- NEMA project licence
- Signed contract/agreement between the client and the contractor
- Contractors registration certificate and practising licence
- Clients KRA PIN certificate
- Registration and practising certificates for the project architect, quantity surveyor and structural engineer
Further, the consultants involved in your construction project are required to be registered and licensed by the relevant professional boards. The architects and quantity surveyors are registered by the Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors (BORAQS), while the engineers are by the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK).
Project Quality Assurance Process
Once a project registration application is received by the office, a quality assurance team led by an investigation officer is sent to the site.
On arrival at the site, the investigation officer-in-charge of compliance inspects to ascertain whether the site complies with the regulations. The following items are checked:
- Site board with the project title, details of the client, project consultants and the necessary approvals
- Personal protective equipment, including helmets, safety boots and reflector jackets
- Approved drawings on site
- Accreditation of site supervisor and other construction workers
Your site should have all those items ticked to have your application approved. When it is approved, you are issued with a project compliance certificate that allows you to commence construction works.
However, the site will be continually monitored by the officers from the authority. In case you stop complying with the authority’s regulations, it will be marked with an ‘X’ sign to signify construction works have been suspended.
This will be accompanied by a written suspension notice.
In some cases, the authority may decide to withdraw a project compliance certificate it had issued to you based on persistent non-compliance issues.
Other Regulatory Bodies
The four regulatory bodies mentioned above are the most significant in any construction project. However, you might require other construction approvals from other regulatory bodies depending on the location of your construction site.
These bodies include Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, Water Resources Authority, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, Kenya National Highways Authority, among others.
For example, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) regulates construction near airports, aeroplane pathways and aerodromes. It requires all parties intending to construct aerial masts and allied structures to obtain approvals for the heights from them.
To affirm this, they categorically state that:
“No person shall construct a building or a structure within the vicinity of an aerodrome unless authorised by the Authority.”
Additionally, Kenya National Highways Authority (KENHA) will have interests in projects that are built closer to road infrastructure. For the construction of petroleum retail stations (popularly known as petrol stations), the main permit will be obtained from EPRA. But station structures such as signboards, feeder roads and any culvert works are permitted by KENHA.
In that regard, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) will exercise jurisdiction and authority over any construction that is affecting the forest resources. Also, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) will have interests in wildlife resources and any construction within their jurisdiction will require approval and monitoring from them.
We have seen the four mandatory construction approvals required when building in Kenya. These approvals are issued by the local authorities and other government regulatory bodies.
In short, you need approvals/permits from the county physical planning office, the public health office, NEMA and NCA.
It is important that you first pursue these authorizations before starting any construction works on your site. This will help you to run your project smoothly without getting into any legal hurdles.
Also, other government bodies come into play depending on the location and nature of your project. Therefore, due diligence should be done to ascertain which other bodies need to be involved at the onset before major works have started.
Before I wrap up things, here’s a list of the legal documents that regulate the Kenyan construction industry (as mentioned in this article):
- Architects and Quantity Surveyors Act, Cap 525, Laws of Kenya,
- Physical Planning and Land Use Act of 2019,
- Environmental Management and Coordination Act, Cap 387, Laws of Kenya,
- National Construction Authority Act, No. 41 of 2011 and NCA Regulations of 2014, and
- Engineers Registration Act 2011.