The approval of building plans, rezonings, township establishments and other applications in South Africa’s economic heartland have ground to a halt because of the suspension of City of Joburg’s building control officer.
While scuffles between the governing DA and opposition parties, including the ANC, delay the appointment of an interim replacement, developers and contractors stand to lose huge amounts.
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 is preparing an application to stop construction of a student housing complex at Streatley Avenue in Auckland Park. This comes 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 earlier this month the building control officer 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 officer has the authority to approve building plans, rezoning and related applications and if the position is not filled, that entire function of the municipality is paralysed, says ANC counsellor Rudy Mathang, who is also a qualified town planner.
SA Property Owners’ Association chief executive Neil Gopal told Moneyweb that the city has not officially informed them of the current situation, but that they 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”.
Japie Vos of Century City said the impact of this situation hurts contractors more than developers. “These subcontractors and employees are much more affected as they are normally the main breadwinner for their families.”
Vos 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 believed the student housing project, developed in her street, was a case in point in terms of questionable approvals. The development is 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.
At Streatley Avenue, where its entrance will be, it 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 said the construction is proceeding despite the fact that the building plans have not been approved. She questions the way Century Properties obtained provisional approval.
She says the high-density development does 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.
Vos said the building plans have circulated to all departments and are awaiting the appointment of a new building control officer. As is usually the case under such conditions, the city issued a provisional authorisation for the building operations to start. This authorisation is valid until July 18, Vos said.
The city has, however, since withdrawn that along with many other similar authorisations issued to various developers in Johannesburg. Vos points out that due process was not followed with the withdrawal and the city failed to give reasons for the move.
Chris Dyani, the city’s acting executive director for development and planning, 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 their legal division was preparing a court application to stop the construction on site, but Vos said Century City was unaware of this.