Sipho Mabena
Premium Journalist
3 minute read
16 Jan 2019
6:20 am

Anger at student ‘dungeon accommodation’ in Joburg may head to court

Sipho Mabena

In yet another scandal to rock the City of Johannesburg’s development planning department, residents of Berario are enraged by the seemingly dubious approval of plans to convert a commercial building cellar into student accommodation.

This property on 185 Arkansas Avenue in the Joburg suburb of Berario has been ‘illegally’ approved to house students. Picture: Supplied

Objection to the approval of the building plans on 185 Arkansas Avenue property, led by neighbour Lee Crossingham, is so intense that lawyers are preparing to approach the courts to nullify the approval.

The dispute is not only about the unlawful approval but that the building would be plain dangerous to life and to adjoining property and would devalue other property in the suburb.

The metro’s development planning oversight committee has revealed that the initial application was refused in June last year but the same application was bizarrely approved four months later.

In committee chairperson Graham de Kock’s report to council, it appeared that the second application had simply picked up from where the first application had failed and “was approved in a matter of days”. De Kock is now insisting on fresh drawings, fees and assessment for a new application.

He notes that the illegality of the first application was compounded by taking the rejected application drawings and registering them under a new application number in October, and then recording the submission date of the application as June.

De Kock said plans in the application were not a true reflection of what was on the property.

He said fundamental information omitted from the drawings should have been reported by the building inspector to the building controls officer (BCO) prior to the approval of the building plan.

De Kock said the BCO, who was said to have visited the site, should have picked up the inconsistencies.

“They may well have done so, but nothing was done to correct the drawings or to at least indicate that this was factored into their decisions. I am of the considered opinion that the community contention has merit and may well succeed if taken to law in this basis,” De Kock said.

He said that in a reckless rush to approve the second application, fundamental errors of judgment were made and could force the review of the approved drawings if challenged.

“In my opinion, clearly there was some pressure exerted by individuals evidenced by certain statements made, and out-of-character annotations on the approved drawings,” De Kock said.

Reuben Masango, the member of the mayoral committee responsible for development planning, said an in-depth investigation into the matter was under way.

“Furthermore, an internal meeting has been scheduled for next week to have a detailed discussion on this matter. Outcomes of the investigation and internal meeting will be communicated with the residents and the ward councillor once all processes have been followed and exhausted,” he said.

The Citizen has previously revealed how Masango was accused of ignoring irregularities in the Bramley Village development, which included lack of public consultation, lack of an occupation certificate due to insufficient storm water drainage, and illegal water and electricity connections.

The houses in the area were flooded during the heavy rains that hit Johannesburg on Monday, with residents blaming the insufficient storm water drainage system at the Bramley Village.

Amnesty International’s Andrew Chinnah, who initially brought the Bramley Village matter to Masango’s attention, said the metro was warned of the danger of flooding, saying the last time the metro was warned about this was on 20 December last year.

“So, from the 20th of December until the 10th of January 2019, it’s been a total of 29 days that [Masango] has allowed the residents to live in danger of flooding. Who is going to pay for claims that will be submitted by the residents? Obviously those claims will be paid by the City [as ratepayers], and not [Masango] in his personal capacity. This amounts to wasteful expenditure,” he said.

Chinnah said it was very concerning that people were occupying the Bramley Village, though there was no occupational certificate issued.

He said that just as their technical expert had pointed out the danger of the flooding, there was a great danger of occupying a building that was not fit for occupation.

“It is against the constitution to endanger the lives of citizens,” Chinnah said.

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