Residents frustrated as City of Joburg’s development department grinds to halt



12-01-2021
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Johannesburg - The approvals of new building, construction, zoning and alteration plans in the entire City of Joburg have ground to a halt.

The result is that residents, including developers, construction companies and individual residents, are now building without plans, claiming they cannot afford to wait for approvals as they have bank loans to repay.

This is causing a huge outcry from other residents whose properties are being affected by the illegal building because there is no by-law enforcement either.

The situation results from two separate events within the city’s building and planning department.

First, and ironically, the Metro Link centre at the Joburg Civic Centre, the headquarters of the city’s department dedicated to the approval of plans, land use and rezoning, was deemed unfit for occupation by the departments of Labour and Health in December.

The offices were temporarily moved to Thuso House in Braamfontein, but developers, planners and home builders claim that officials are not accessible and many original plans too large to email were “stuck”in the old centre, with staff being unable to get into the building to retrieve them .

Recently, another setback was the death of two senior staff members through Covid-19, which resulted in the temporary closure of the temporary offices.

A developer, who would not be named for fear of sounding insensitive and putting his plan approvals in jeopardy, said his company had plans for seven new large residential developments in the suburbs, and had been forced to start building without approved plans.

“While we are saddened by the death of these officials, whom we all knew and dealt with on a daily basis, the developments in an entire city cannot be stopped. We cannot keep these on hold because we incur huge costs in delays,” he said.

Another resident, who also would not be named, runs an illegal guest house in Kensington.

“I applied for consent use and have been waiting for months, so I operate illegally. I tried to do the right thing

but have got no response. I purchased this property as a guest house, which was illegal, and I did try to rectify this without success,” she said.

Ward councillors Neuren Peterson and Carlos da Rochas said in the eastern suburbs alone, they were dealing with thousands of illegal uses such as spaza shops, guest houses, pubs and shebeens operating openly without fear of enforcement. Entire city blocks in the Bez Valley area have been turned into flats and businesses, with the city losing out on rates as the owners were still paying residential rates.

The city recently stepped in to enforce stop orders on two illegal buildings, a multistorey guest house in Kensington South and one in Sandringham. They also demolished two illegal buildings in Cyrildene, but the councillors say these were a few out of thousands.

“As a direct result of our action as ward councillors and media exposure in The Star, demolition orders that had been lying on the shelf were dusted off and a number were and will be actioned over this month. Many properties have significant issues, such as extreme arrears, illegal connections, illegal land use and illegal buildings. The city is allowing these illegalities to persist,” said Peterson.

In Auckland Park, the residents’ association said property owners were showing complete disregard for the law and had continued to build despite stop notices being issued.

“I fear that if the city does not take urgent action against this owner, we will have bigger issues to deal with once the property is occupied. It’s a matter of time before the property gets tenants in place and this will get a whole lot more complicated,” said a resident, who would be not be named as she has been threatened by the owners.

The city’s Department of Development Planning acknowledged that the temporary closure of the Metro Link centre was “due to urgent maintenance required on the building; and although we understand that the decision to close the Metro Link will have a significant impact on the construction industry, being the custodians of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1977 requires the department to lead by example and comply with the law”, said member of the mayoral committee for development planning, Thapelo Amad.

“It is therefore imperative that we ensure compliance at every level – not only for the sake of our staff, but for members of the public,“he added.

The temporary closure of the Metro Link was an undeniable setback, he said, but he urged members of the public to make use of the alternative arrangements put in place.

“The department continues to prioritise the delivery of key services for the residents of Joburg, and we will ensure that the maintenance of the Metro Link is given the urgency it deserves,” Amad added.

Department spokesperson Poppy Louw said that the Metro Link building was condemned in November.

“As a result, countless professionals in the industry urged the department to find alternative premises to operate from, as the closure of the Metro Link, albeit temporary, would have a significant impact on the construction industry and, ultimately, the economic growth and development of the City of Joburg. The department found temporary premises at Thuso House, Jorissen Street, Braamfontein.

“The purpose of this alternative arrangement is to allow for the submission of large building plans, which could otherwise not be submitted electronically due to the size of the files. Members of the industry and public are, however, still encouraged to submit building plans via email to BuildingApplications@joburg.org.za in cases that do not warrant physical submission.”

The Star

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