The approval of building plans, rezonings, township establishments and other built-environment applications in South Africa’s economic heartland has ground to a halt due to the suspension of the City of Joburg’s Building Control Officer.
While scuffles between the ruling Democratic Alliance (DA) and opposition parties including the ANC delay the appointment of an interim replacement, developers and contractors stand to lose huge amounts of money.
The city withdrew some earlier approvals against the background of forensic investigations and at least one dispute is heading to court.
Ward councillor Bridget Steer confirmed to Moneyweb that the city was preparing an application to stop construction of student housing in Streatley Avenue, Auckland Park. This follows after the developer failed to stop construction despite the fact that the city withdrew its provisional authorisation.
The developer, Century Properties, told Moneyweb it has complied with all the applicable laws and by-laws, but that the city’s withdrawal of its earlier authorisation was procedurally flawed. Therefore construction proceeds.
Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba said in a statement earlier this month that the city’s Building Control Officer (BCO) had been suspended due to: “Irregularities in the issuing of notices to developers, resulting in developments taking place without approved plans, creating a law-enforcement burden for the city, and loss of revenue,” among other things.
The Building Control Officer has the delegated authority to approve building plans, rezoning and related applications and if the position is not filled, that whole function of the municipality is paralysed, says ANC councillor Rudy Mathang, who is also a qualified town planner.
South African Property Owners’ Association (Sapoa) CEO Neil Gopal told Moneyweb that the city has not officially informed Sapoa of the current situation, but the organisation will engage the city.
He said this “will certainly slow down the pace of much needed developments, increasing revenue for the city and job creation”.
Century Properties’ Japie Vos said the impact of the current situation impacts contractors even more than developers. “These sub-contractors and employees are much more affected as they are normally the main breadwinner for their families.” He said the retraction and failure to issue approvals is affecting 3 000 to 4 000 direct job opportunities from Century City Developments alone.
Auckland Park resident Jane Griffiths believes the student housing project being developed by Century Properties in her street is a case in point in terms of questionable approvals.
The development is right behind the Campus Square shopping centre and close to the Raya Vaya bus service.
It will consist of more than 200 residential units and 170 parking bays.
In Streatley Avenue where the entrance will be, the development will have four storeys and on the rest of the property six storeys. It stretches almost the whole length of Streatley Avenue, which is a narrow tree-lined street with stately single and double storey houses on the other side.
Griffiths told Moneyweb the construction was proceding despite the fact that the building plans had not been approved and questions on the way the developer obtained provisional approval to proceed with construction.
She said the high-density development did not comply with the city’s development framework and has a list of concerns about the way construction is being done.
Steer shares the concerns of Griffiths and other residents and says the city will investigate the whole matter as part of the bigger investigation following the suspension of the BCO.
However, Vos told Moneyweb the building plans had been circulated to all departments and that they were just awaiting the appointment of a new BCO.
As is usually the case under such conditions, the city issued a provisional authorisation for the building operations. This authorisation is valid until July 18, Vos said. The city has however since withdrawn the authorisation along with many other similar authorisations issued to various developers in Johannesburg, Vos said. He pointed out that due process was not followed with the withdrawal and the city failed to give reasons for the move.
City of Joburg acting executive director of Development Planning Chris Dyani, told Moneyweb that the authorisation should never have been given in the first place, since the site development plan was still under consideration by the Land Use division and other documents were outstanding.
Dyani said the city’s legal department was preparing a court application to stop the construction on site, but Vos said Century was unaware of this.