Fasttracking development & planning

Posted On Monday, 12 March 2001 03:01 Published by
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City insists new proposals will clear planning bottlenecks

NEW RULES OR OLD HAT?

City insists new proposals will clear planning bottlenecks
Stung by accusations that it's losing development opportunities because planning applications take too long to process, Durban is cutting the red tape.

But is it? City officials describe a new planning policy as "revolutionary". Developers say they have heard it all before.
The new unicity centred on Durban is called eThekwini. Its development and planning service has established a Development Facilitation Centre, which officials liken to a "one-stop-shop" for developers. Spokesman Steve Bond, while conceding that not everything is in place yet - specifically staff and technology - insists the new centre will slash development delays.
He says the restructuring is anything but superficial: it is the culmination of an 18-month process based on an inquiry. Claims of shorter approval times can be substantiated, he says. The average time to process a rezoning application has been slashed from nine months to three. Planning applications for building plans over 500 m², which once took up to a year, will now be handled in 20 working days.
Many remain to be convinced. A Durban-based architect says he hopes the claims are true but experience suggests otherwise. "It's one thing to achieve improvements during pilot phases, and quite another to sustain them in the longer term. The reality is that similar claims have been made by the local authority over the years, but experience has told us that little changes because when we submit our applications, we are dealing with the same civil servants as before ," he says.
The problems facing would-be developers in Durban were highlighted recently (Property July 20) when another architect, Willy Vandeverre of Urban Aspects International, said Durban compared badly with Maputo, which processes and decides on applications within 90 days. Vandeverre is behind a major marina development in the Mozambican capital.
He welcomes anything that will make the Durban planning process more efficient, but says the restructuring is in danger of missing the real problem. "It will doubtless have a positive impact in terms of dealing with routine planning applications. What is really needed, however, is a change of thinking at the council's executive level when making development policy and investment decisions crucial to the growth of Durban," he says.
Bond, however, says the restructuring will bring Durban in line with international best practice. Among the innovations is a Website (devinfo.durban.gov.za) offering access to policy and other information relevant to development and planning applications. There are details on how to make applications, with facilities for online submissions, and details on the progress of specific applications.
Specialist staff training, with new technology, is expected to make a difference, as is the formation of a team of people drawn from throughout the council, representing departments such as traffic, fire, environment, water and pollution. The idea is that they should meet daily to discuss applications, and avoid the traditional process of plans being shunted endlessly between offices.
The new strategy introduces an exemption card for developers who consistently submit plans with all the correct information. Exempt from certain preliminary inspections, their applications will be hastened through the system.
There are plans for regular information through publications and a customer phone line with information on issues like building plans, rezoning, signage, subdivisions, enforcement and inspections.
Despite doubts from some quarters, it is encouraging that Durban is at least trying to respond to criticisms of planning bottlenecks. The efficacy of the new policy is already being put to the test. The first major application - to redevelop Wilson's Wharf, which has stood largely derelict on the Durban Harbour waterfront for several years - was submitted to the facilitation centre last week.
Durban isn't alone in trying to clear planning logjams as local councils are consolidated into unicities. A Johannesburg town planner says there are delays of up to two years on rezoning applications. "To get consent use, for instance to use a house as an office, takes months," he says.
Nicky Carkeek, CEO of developer Matrix, says that while initial applications seem to be moving faster, delays down the line can be significant.
Cape Town planner Dave du Plooy says applications there are taking between nine months and a year. "We are moving backwards while they try to structure a single local authority with one planning scheme, from 27 councils with 27 planning schemes. It is very complex."


Publisher: Financial Mail
Source: Herb Payne and Ian Fife

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