‘The City has been captured’

“The recent approval of the planning by-law illustrates that city capture has taken place in the City of Cape Town.”

So says Milnerton Central Ratepayers’ Association (MCRA) vice chairman Bouwe van der Eems in response to the council’s approval of amendments to the municipal planning by-law on Thursday October 31.

The by-law regulates development and land use in the city.

The amendments will, among others, allow for controlled densification, short-term letting of flats, and minor freestanding and minor rooftop cell masts, either as of right or as a consent use.

A cell mast up to 1.5 metres high will be allowed, with City permission, on single- and general-residential properties. The amendments also allow short-term letting from a house or flat for up to 30 consecutive days, in response, says the City, to the rise in online businesses such as AirBnB, and third dwellings can be built, as an additional-use right (without prior City approval) on single-residential properties.

The City put the proposed amendments out for public comment in March, and officials answered questions at six public information sessions in Milnerton, Kraaifontein, the Cape Town CBD, Fish Hoek, Goodwood and Strand.

The MCRA submitted its own amendments to address what it felt were flaws in the by-law with regards to public participation. These had not been addressed, said Mr Van der Eems.

“Residents frustrated by city capture are increasingly turning to court action and tyre burning to make their voices heard. These actions have limited success. Even if residents ‘win’ through these means, the funds used for paying for legal fees and fixing burnt roads still comes from the pockets of residents,” he said.

Greater Table View Action Forum (GTAF) chairwoman Karen Davis is not happy about what the by-law says about cell masts.

“We already have 4G, and 5G is not far away, and I am still of the opinion that not enough research has been done to assure the general public of the health hazards that potentially can occur.

“There are many people who are extremely sensitive to these emissions and radio waves, and not enough is being done to ensue that they are safe from harm and failing health.”

GTAF member David Ayres said the City had proven the public participation process “is nothing more than a sham”.

“I question who is running the City, as they certainly are not taking decisions in the public interest. These changes were designed to stifle public comment on land change issues.”

He listed some of the “most concerning points” of the by-law:

BLOB The City can exempt anyone from the by-law and it has the power to change land use without advertising or asking for public comment.

BLOB The City still uses the SA Post Office to send notices of land-use changes “purely as a vehicle to ensure the city can show delivery while ratepayers have not received notices”.

The City has deleted the section that allows for applications to be suspended when the decision is challenged by a higher court so objectors will have to approach the courts to suspend the application before they review the decision, leaving them open to cost orders from developers.

“The City can develop where, when and to what level it wants to. It can simply overlay a new zone in an area and not have to tell the people,” said Mr Ayres.

The City will now demand objections are completed on a prescribed form. This means people have to go to collect this form before they can object. It also constrains objections to a format the City is happy with.

The City may, by amendment of the development management scheme, on its own initiative adopt a new overlay zoning or amend or remove an existing overlay zoning. This section means the City can rezone areas at will with no advertising, no notice. If it changes the zoning, it will allow developers to build within the new zoning requirements Without having to advertise this to people next to or near the development.

“It can exempt a person or group of people from the by-law. This is shocking and shows the City is more concerned about densification and the profits of developers than it is about the rule of law and the public interest,” he said.  

In July the Table View Ratepayers’ Association (TVRA) submitted a motion on proposed changes to the municipal planning by-law, but chairwoman Mandy da Matta says it was ignored.

“It would appear the City has not taken heed of any proposals and suggestions put forward by the public and various ratepayers’ associations during the ‘supposed’ information session where things were dictated to residents,” said Ms Da Matta.

There were “unintended consequences” of having multi dwellings on a single residential plot especially for homeowners’ associations, she said.

The by-law flouted the conditions of ownership, she said.

“Passing this by-law without proper public participation may give rise to a collapse of property values simply because they may have three properties on an erf.”

Mr Van der Eems said all hope was not lost and there were several ways to counter the slide towards the “tyranny of the bureaucracy”.

“There are currently court cases in progress that will provide clarity on how independent candidates can take part in elections. If residents’ associations can get independent ward councillors elected, it can contribute towards reducing the power of the forces of city capture.”

Residents’ associations could establish organisations through which they paid their municipal bills.

“If these organisations gain sufficient support, they can put pressure on the City by withholding large payments if the City does not address the concerns of residents. These funds can also be used to pay for services that the City fails to provide. This model is working successfully in many rural towns in South Africa but needs to be adapted for cities.”

Ms Davis said more people needed to get involved and attend public meetings.

“If they do not attend, they cannot moan after the fact. Therefore, I appeal to every single person that has a vested interest in living in the greater Table View area, be part of the solution and make your voices heard.”