Backlash over city's planning

Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

THERE has been a public backlash to the City of Cape Town’s plans to change to the way planning decisions are made. Critics say there is an “erosion” of the public having a say in the city’s development.

The backlash has focused on two city council proposals: one to remove subcouncils’ powers concerning land use planning decisions and to focus these in the hands of one official, and another called “repeal of public engagement policy”.

Gavin Smith, vice-chairman of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, an umbrella body of organisations including ratepayer bodies, said yesterday: “When we saw the repeal of public engagement on the council’s website we realised this was serious stuff.

“If it goes through, the implications go way beyond the public having no say in planning issues.

“It’s basically the council saying public participation is a problem and let’s get rid of it. It’s been taken off the agenda for now, and we don’t know if it will come back on.

“What we suspect is that it will go on behind the scenes now,” Smith said.

“At least there are a number of councillors that are opposed to it.”

The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance said on its website that if adopted, it would “virtually shut down entirely the present space for public participation in the workings of the City of Cape Town”.

The plan to amend delegations for economic, environmental and spatial planning, which has already been considered by the mayoral committee, would mean that applications for large-scale developments and other land-use plans would go through the council without an opportunity for the public to be consulted or for them to lodge objections.

Currently, decisions on land-use applications are shared between officials and political structures like subcouncils and the spatial planning, environment and land-use management committee. The proposal is that the decisions will rest with one executive director.

Both proposals were on the agenda for last month’s council meeting, but withdrawn. The Cape Times asked the council if they would be on the agenda again, but did not receive a reply.

Len Swimmer, chairman of the alliance, wrote to mayor Patricia de Lille last week to say the proposed changes to planning decisions were the “very antithesis of democracy”.

“The intention is to concentrate 99 percent of the decision concerning economic, environmental and spatial planning matters affecting the running of the city in one official’s hands…

“There is no intention to refer any land-use planning matter to any interested and affected party, only to the landowner,” according to Swimmer.

It appeared designed to “prevent any public participation which might thwart a plan devised behind closed doors in the city council, but not seen by the community concerned”, he said.

Noordhoek resident Glenn Ashton said the proposals, when considered with the ear that the council gives to the Western Cape Property Developers’ Forum, appeared to be part of a “takeover of the planning and development of our city by developers and building companies, which hold massive power through their non-transparent funding of political parties”.

The council was asked to comment but had not replied at the time of going to press.


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