"Cape Town’s property planning and approval department has lost touch with the real world. They continue to pat themselves on the back because they are told they are performing more efficiently than other SA local authorities — but that is a meaningless yardstick. The truth is that, employing unqualified and inexperienced staff for jobs which they are not yet competent to handle, the department is causing developers and construction contractors to lose large sums month after month and limiting the number of new projects. Regrettably, ongoing complaints about this have so far had little effect."
These tough words were said recently by Paul Henry, managing director of Rawson Developers, one of the few Cape Town residential property developers which have been able to launch new projects in the last two years.
Henry said that by any "normal" standards the approval of a new development should be completed in three months. In practice, he said, it now takes 18 months or longer.
"What the department forgets is that these inexcusable delays all add to the cost and risk of every project. They make the task of the developer already hard hit in these straitened times far more difficult."
Those most frustrated by the current inefficiencies, said Henry, are often the end users who time and again find no identifiable reason for the delay in transfer.
Rawsons, said Henry, have encountered delays on every project which they have launched in the last six years but nowhere has this been worse than at their River’s Edge development.
Sited in Rondebosch, 50 metres from the Liesbeek canal, this 84 unit complex was deemed by the City Council to be subject to their new Flood Plain River Management Policy. This, says Henry, appears to have been drawn up without any clear directive on how it is to be implemented and enforced.
"The impression developers like we are getting is that city officials themselves do not understand the policy and their engineers are still debating it.
"In an industry now facing massive unemployment as a result of the available jobs being reduced by over 50 percent, one could have expected the city officials to do all in their power to keep new developments coming off the drawing boards. However, like the banks, they appear to have no real feeling of responsibility or duty in this matter."
Henry’s statements tie in closely with those of Deon van Zyl, chairman of the Western Cape Property Development Forum, who in a recent letter to forum members said:
"Where developers do dare to develop, bulk infrastructure constraints, ill-defined development contribution policies and slow building plan approvals are hampering attempts to break ground."
Van Zyl then said that the Property Forum has set for itself the following goals:
- to increase its levels of communication with executive politicians and officials;
- to assess what reasonable timelines for approvals should be and to compare these with what is actually achieved by the Western Cape province and municipality planning departments;
- to create a confidence index reflecting forum members’ experiences with the above authorities;
- to lobby forum members to comment on provincial and municipal policy changes and to make constructive suggestions;
- to inform members of legislative and policy changes likely to affect them; and
- To forward all information and members’ questions to the province and the municipalities.