A better by-law for all

TVRA chairwoman Mandy da Matta.

Table View and Milnerton civic groups want the City to make it easier for the public to hear about developments on their doorstep and to scrap the mayor’s power to veto citizens’ objections.

The Table View Ratepayers’ Association (TVRA) and the Milnerton Central Ratepayers’ Association (MCRA) are pushing for changes to the municipal planning by-law (MPBL) which they say will better suit the ratepayer.

Both organisations want the City to enter the digital era and use more efficient online methods to notify the public about development plans.

They then want the public to have a full 30 days, commencing upon proof of receipt of notification, to raise objections and comments.

The City’s preferred method of registered mail is no longer a reliable method of communication, according to TVRA chairwoman Mandy da Matta who proposes establishing a single database of civic organisations registered with the City.

“Civic organisations must be informed of all notifications sent to residents, to empower civic organisations to use their online platforms to make residents aware of applications,” said Ms Da Matta.

Notifications about planning applications, she said, should include hyperlinks to online versions of the application document. There should be notification alerts by SMS and on municipal bills, she said.

A similar motion was submitted by the MCRA earlier this year when the City hosted public hearings on proposed amendments to the MPBL.

MCRA vice-chairman Bouwe van der Eems said: “The assumption in legislation is that registered mail is a reliable method of informing residents about planning applications, but that assumption is flawed. Very few people receive their registered mail, and if people are not informed of what’s happening, then it is not a meaningful process.”

In March, the City sought public comment on changes it wants to make to the MPBL, including sections relating to emergency housing and the installation of minor free-standing cell masts.

City spokeswoman Lizel Steenkamp said officials from the City’s Development Planning Department had collated all of the public comments and were preparing a report that would go before council.

Mr Van der Eems said the MCRA had wanted to propose its own amendments to the MPBL on top of those from the City.

“Our goal is to change the by-law to make the public participation process more meaningful,” he said.

The association had presented its proposals to the City in April but had not had any feedback since then, he said.

Ms Da Matta also wants to scrap the mayor’s power to override the outcome of a public-participation process.

“This, in effect, makes the public-participation process null and void, denies the process of natural justice, ignores existing legislation and leaves the office of the mayor open to possible bias,” she said.

Instead she is lobbying for the Municipal Planning Tribunal to be obliged to provide “unbiased, transparent and fair” reasons for dismissing objections.

Mayco member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt said national legislation – the Spatial Planning Land Use and Management Act (SPLUMA) – made the mayor a city’s final appeal authority for planning.

“The TVRA should petition the national government if they want this to be changed.”

The City had started a digital application process, she said.

“In fact, as from July 1, we only accept online submissions of building plan and land use applications. We will consider other means of communication as suggested by the TVRA once the online submission system has been fully implemented.”

The TVRA’s proposed changes to the MPBL could be presented during another round of public participation in future, she said.

“The MBPL will be assessed again in 2020 and other proposed amendments may be considered during this time.”