Curbing the Cowboys

Posted On Monday, 25 March 2002 03:01 Published by
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Property developers, who have been rampaging through Johannesburg for decades, may soon meet their match in the form of the city's new spatial development framework (SDF).
Property developers, who have been rampaging through Johannesburg for decades, may soon meet their match in the form of the city's new spatial development framework (SDF). Then again, they may not. In future the SDF - which has been approved by Johannesburg's council - will restrict developers to major commercial projects within an urban edge and in certain nodes. Trouble is, we've been there before and it hasn't stopped the cowboys. The 1995 Development Facilitation Act introduced the compact-city and mixed-use concepts, as well as development tribunals to ensure they worked. But developers and their bevies of planners and lawyers ran rings around tribunal politicians, developing almost anywhere at will. A plan to introduce development corridors on busy roads turned into an office-building frenzy. What's more, local authorities lack the staff to police their own rules. Developers tend to ignore the rules and begin building before they have planning approval. 'Forgiveness is easier than permission in Johannesburg,' quips one of them. Planning authorities thought they were winning when they forced high-profile developments - Illovo Boulevard and Melrose Arch, for two - to include large residential components. But developers built the offices and shops and left out the rest because they lacked experience in residential development. 'Playpen of the rich,' is how Prof Philip Harrison, chairman of Wits University's school of town and regional planning, describes current planning controls. But Harrison, economists and some enlightened developers praise the new SDF. 'Its policies are great, its strategies world-class,' says property economist Pauline Larsen, a partner in Viruly Consulting. For one thing, an urban edge will prevent development from sprawling horizontally on to cheap land. And it is expected to encourage the city to grow upwards, as it does in other cities of the world where land is expensive. The theory is that Johannesburg will become a compact city and land prices will rise. Prices will rise higher in nodes where commercial development is restricted. These include Parktown, Rosebank, Midrand, the Sandton CBD and other established areas, where development will be forced upwards instead of sideways. Development will be encouraged in Randburg, the Johannesburg CBD, Sunninghill/Woodmead and Jabulani, Soweto. But can Johannesburg stir up the political will and increase manpower to make it work? 'There is a lot of growth at urban edges and developers with powerful vested interests are putting pressure on politicians to allow special cases,' says Harrison. Adds Larsen: 'It only takes one developer to hop across the edge for the object to be defeated.' Harrison points out that urban edges have worked in some cities; Portland, Oregon, is one in the US. But, he says, the city has political and community support, and it owns much of the land on its boundaries. Prescribed urban edges have also been successful in the Netherlands. 'But I'm not aware of any serious research internationally that shows urban edges work in every case,' Harrison says. 'And, of course, the framework will operate in a difficult context in Johannesburg. We cannot afford another planning failure that ends up as a means to legitimise decisions already made by private developers.' Another concern is that the urban edge will surround Gauteng, rather than just Johannesburg. It runs through the east and south of Johannesburg (see diagram), but the province's other local authorities will also have to adopt the SDF and lay on the manpower to police it. Those that are short of cash may be tempted to break the rules to gain more rates income. But Herman Pienaar, Johannesburg's official responsible for the SDF, is upbeat. 'I feel positive that we have the political will throughout Gauteng. Johannesburg is big enough not to have to worry about developments moving to other municipalities. We are hoping to get cities that have succeeded to help us ensure proper control. But we are well aware of the dangers.' Support for Pienaar's vision comes from Tim Middleton, a director of Illovo Boulevard developer Intaprop and one-time Johannesburg planning official. 'I endorse the urban edge and nodal development,' he says, adding that Intaprop has stopped further site assemblies for rezoning so as to fall in line with the SDF. Middleton believes two things will make it work. 'The decision- and policy-makers are all ANC throughout the local authorities and the province. And at the moment the SDF aligns with what the market wants.' He cites recent statements by Sanlam's Banus van der Walt and Old Mutual's Ian Watt, calling for a halt to uncontrolled development. Everyone - even developers - wants development tamed. But the sceptics remain . . . well, sceptical
Publisher: Business Day
Source: Business Day

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