City accused of going against ‘national guidelines’ during lockdown

There has been no sign of land-use application notices on the City’s website since the start of lockdown two months ago despite the City saying its development management department is still processing them.

Mayco member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt said it all depended on whether the applications required advertising and letters to the affected residents.

“It must be noted that advertisement on a site is not mandatory for all applications and under the current lockdown these will not serve any purpose. Where it will be required to be placed on site, the applicant will still have to do it. However, that would be subject to the lockdown conditions.”

Ms Nieuwoudt said the law stipulated that notices should be served as a minimum requirement on “a person whose rights and legitimate expectations are materially and adversely affected if the application would be approved”.

Who decides if someone meets these criteria? Case officers from the City’s development management department, according to Ms Nieuwoudt.

Since lockdown the City announced that it has assessed and approved building plans to the value of R2.3 billion. This included the approval of: 1 374 building plans comprising less than 500m² each valued at over R850 million; 379 minor work applications to the value of R25 million; and 63 building plans comprising of more than 500m² each valued at
R1.2 billion.

Ms Nieuwoudt said it had been challenging under lockdown to serve notices to affected parties as neither the post office nor courier services had been operational.

“However, the City will now appeal to residents for their consent to receive these notices via email where this is possible. Media advertisements and online publications can then proceed.

“There are alternatives available, for example, where parties consent to e-mail notices and where that could happen media adverts and online publications can then proceed,” said Ms Nieuwoudt.

David Ayres from the Greater Table View Action Forum (GTAF) questioned why the planning department was deemed essential during lockdown “against national guidelines”.

He said any land-use applications that were received and actioned during lockdown should be deemed illegal.

“We are sure that ratepayers would want the same service delivery from the City that it gives the development community. National legislation demands public participation in land-use matters.

“The City has again ignored this in favour of its developer-friendly policies.”

He said the City had for years relied on the postal service for notification of land use applications and in doing so had ignored the plight of residents who had not received the notices due to the well documented failings of the SA Post Office.

“The City is aware that GTAF and other community groups use their website to monitor land-use applications due to the continued failure of the City to properly communicate these land-use applications with the community.

“The City is clearly not wanting to waste a good crisis and is using lockdown to remove rights from its residents,” he said.

Mandy da Matta chairperson of the Table View Ratepayers Association (TVRA) said: “You can’t use the excuse of lockdown to deny someone their rights of public participation. How has the City been allowed to work ‘behind the scenes’ even though the applications department is not considered an essential service during lockdown? How does the City justify passing 1816 building plans without any public participation?”

In April the City released a statement saying it approved 758 building plan applications covering a floor area of 127 950 m² and valued at over R1 billion.

Ms Da Matta said the TVRA had requested from the City details of where in the metro these building plans were approved and to which waste water treatment plants these proposed buildings would be connected to.

“To date we have not received any feedback from the City,” she said.

She said the approval of land-use applications during lockdown was “one-sided” and served only the applicants.

“What about the rights of affected homeowners who have had their rights denied?” she said.