The South African Property Owner’s Association (Sapoa) has decried major delays in building and town planning approvals in the City of Joburg, saying SA’s economic hub is putting billions of rand of investment at risk.
Speaking to Moneyweb during a media breakfast (on Friday), Sapoa CEO, Neil Gopal, said the issue had become a huge concern not only for property developers, but also the town planning fraternity in the city.
“We have received numerous complaints that the City of Joburg’s planning office has come to a virtual halt. One developer said he has loss around R100 million due to planning delays by the city,” Gopal said.
Asked what the broader impact was, Gopal said: “Sapoa has not undertaken a study of the overall impact of the current delays as yet, but, we have seen a considerable decline in planning approvals. We are easily talking billions of rands here. It is not just a case of the possible loss of major private sector investment, but ultimately a loss in GDP, as well as in rates and tax for the city.”
He added: “Words like ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘broken’ are being thrown around by the local town planning fraternity regarding the situation within the city’s development planning office. Many of our members are becoming frustrated and are saying they would rather take their investments to other cities and even to the likes of Mauritius, Ghana and Europe. This is a serious issue, where we could lose major investment at a time when the South African economy can least afford it.”
Town planning stalwart and Joburg chairman of the Association of Town and Regional Planners, Lloyd Druce, was even more scathing in his criticism of the city’s planning department. “The situation has never been worse than it is now,” he told Moneyweb in an interview.
“I have 35 years of experience dealing with town planning issues in the city, and for whatever reason, it seems as though the delays and problems in the town planning department has gotten worse since the DA took over Joburg. Things are completely dysfunctional and it comes down to poor management,” he added.
Druce said he met the city’s MMC for Development Planning, Cllr Reuben Masango, earlier this year regarding industry frustrations and presented him with a 20-page Memorandum. “We have had discussions with the city, but it does not seem as if they are taking our concerns seriously. We are now working with Sapoa, who have endorsed our memorandum. The delays and problems in the planning and related departments of the city are so deep rooted and complex that we need leadership and political intervention from Mayor Herman Mashaba and the various city committees that deal with town planning and infrastructure related issues,” he said.
Druce added: “It is critical that the delays are addressed, as town planning and land use management are at the heart of driving growth and development in a city. Town planning needs to be taken more seriously on a day-to-day basis, from approvals of small projects like a crèche, to big developments like shopping malls. We can’t be waiting for months for planning approvals and related issues to be dealt with. The delays are not only costly for developers and ordinary citizens, but is costing the economy too.”
Both Druce and Gopal have recently met the city’s new Executive Director of Development Planning, Amolemo Mothoagae, about the issues and how the industry can contribute to finding solutions.
Gopal said: “We understand there’s a restructuring going on that involves both the city’s billing and planning departments. We know that the city is reviewing their systems and even considering taking the planning approval process online. Ironically, government officials from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, visited Joburg about three year ago to look at how its planning department works, and today, town planning in Nairobi is done online.
“They were behind Joburg and now are ahead, and are seeing massive investments in property and urban developments. The World Bank is now working with the City of Joburg on the planning problem and we hope to see positives come out of it.”
Approached for comment on the concerns raised by Sapoa, Joburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba, said he would look into the matter and referred Moneyweb to MMC for Development Planning, Reuben Masango.
Responding to emailed questions from Moneyweb, Masango conceded that there were planning delays. “The City did receive complaints regarding delays for approvals of both land use planning and building plans applications… There are various reasons for why delays may occur, however, in the main delays have been a result of capacity constraints, which the Department is addressing,” he said.
Masango, however, said that the Development Planning Department was not restructuring. “It is in the process of closely examining its applications processes to look at the root causes of the delays and put in measures to improve turn-around times and general efficiencies in the system.”
He added: “The work that we have done to date has revealed that there has been a lot of wrong-doing by both City officials and some members of the industry, something that was indeed discussed with Sapoa. This situation requires that both the City and the industry take responsibility in working together to resolve these challenges.”
Masango said the City was approaching the challenges in the planning applications process in a multi-pronged manner. This includes ‘capacitation’ of the Department with professional staff; change management for the current staff and providing them with the relevant tools of the trade; and; a Business Re-engineering Process, which will entail electronic submission of all applications, with a built-in monitoring and evaluation ability.
“In addition to the above, the city is working with both the National Treasury and the World Bank in the Ease of Doing Business study, which helps cities improve their systems and procedures for making it easy to attract invest and grow the economy… We are committed to make the required and all necessary reforms,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sapoa said it would be undertaking an in-depth survey with the city and industry to find solutions to the planning challenges.