BISHOP Tudor Bismark’s New Life Covenant Church’s bid to construct a state-of-the-art building on a wetland in Newlands has been thwarted after a civil society organisation, Harare Wetlands Trust (HWT), successfully contested its legality.
The church intended to build the structure along Boundary Road, but residents and environmental rights campaigners objected.
Newlands Residents’ Association and the HWT opposed the move and sought the intervention of the High Court.
They argued that the structures were being built on a wetland and that the church had not complied with environment regulations.
Justice Webster Chinamora heard the dispute in which New Life Covenant Church, the Harare City Council, the Minister of Local Government and Public Works, the Environmental Management Agency, the Minister of Environment, Climate Tourism and Hospitality and the Upper Manyame Catchment Council were listed as respondents.
He found that the church had not complied with the law after it failed to apply for a permit from Upper Manyame Catchment Council
Justice Chinamora declared the construction of a church by New Life Covenant Church on the wetland as unlawful and ordered the church to stop all developments.
“The first respondent’s ongoing development on Stand 1892 Boundary Road, Harare . . . be and is hereby declared unlawful,” said Justice Chinamora.
“The first respondent shall immediately cease all developments and remove all machinery on Stand 1892 Boundary Road, Harare.”
The church resisted the application insisting it had the necessary permit to proceed with the development.
It also produced a letter written by the local authority’s director of works as the authority upon which it acted.
But after examining the letter, Justice Chinamora formed the view that it was not a permit within the contemplation of Section 24 (1)(d) of the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act.
In their application, the HWT and residents wanted the High Court to issue an order stopping the work and directing the removal of all the construction machinery on site.
Advocate Fadzayi Mahere, who acted for the applicants argued that the church did not obtain the requisite permits for the development of the property in terms of the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act and Section 46(2) of the Water Act.
Government in 2016 partially allowed the church to construct the structures on the site on condition that the structures only covered land of up to 0,8 hectares.
However, the residents argued that the church exceeded the 0,8ha limit in violation of the ministerial directive and they wanted the church to stop the construction.
It was further argued that the stand fell under an area declared to be a wetland and the church should comply with the stipulated pre-conditions to lawfully erect structures.
It was also feared that constructing the church on the wetland would result in irreparable harm to the environment.