ANNA COX AND THERESA TAYLOR
A new policy on booms and road closures in Joburg suburbs could see residents in gated communities having to reapply for permission to secure their areas.
approved at a council meeting last month, is likely to be adopted in the next few months.
Although the new access restriction policy does not differ much from the 2003 policy, which failed dismally because of lengthy delays by the Joburg Roads Agency (JRA), time frames have now been put in place for almost every step of the procedure, which is likely to facilitate approvals that, in the past, were delayed for years.
And now only two-thirds of property owners have to consent to closures, compared with the 80 percent needed previously.
The council approved the Security Access Restriction Policy in 2003, when communities started barricading themselves without permission because of rising crime. This caused a storm of controversy and infighting in suburbs.
Many stories emerged of disgruntled opponents knocking down booms with their cars in protest against the closures.
The JRA started tearing down some of the booms, much to the fury of residents, who claimed they had a right to protect themselves.
The JRA then agreed to allow those already boomed off to remain closed, though the applications were never formally approved. The closures were to be reviewed every two years, which has not happened.
Attorney Gary Duke represented residents in eight court cases, and has won every one.
Pretoria High Court judge Chris Botha stated in one case that there was evidence that access restrictions had a “beneficial effect” as far as crime was concerned.
The inconvenience experienced by residents as a result of road closures “does not weigh heavily” against the security benefits of closure, the judge said.
Residents of Bordeaux South won a Johannesburg High Court ruling last year, allowing them to erect access-restriction structures temporarily until the council took a decision on whether to give them permission for permanent structures. The court ruled that the barricades could remain and granted costs of about R98 000 against the council.
At the time the policy was formulated, the council consulted with police, metro police, political parties, city departments, utilities and agencies, trade and industry, and residents’ associations.
The panel found that there was a need for closures, but that it would displace crime to neighbouring suburbs, increase property values and affect pedestrian traffic.
There were also concerns of the denial of rights of access; threats; victimisation and harassment at booms; constitutional issues such as the right to safety and security; urban functionality; provision of council services and emergency services to these enclosed areas; and social and economic issues affecting domestic workers, job seekers, crèches and schools.
A report by the council found that, as a long-term solution, closures were not desirable and would be considered only in exceptional circumstances.
For years the city ignored the problem, refusing to consider new applications and appeals, but last year when Bordeaux residents obtained the court order forcing the council to make decisions while reviewing its process, two new closures were approved in Randburg and Bryanston.
“I wasn’t keen in the beginning, but it’s quite good,” said a Bordeaux South resident, who would not give her name.
Her initial concern was that she had been a victim of an attempted hijacking on her street and was worried that had the roadblocks been there, she would have been barred from escaping. She said traffic in the area had decreased, but she was uncertain whether the system had led to lower crime rates.
There were now clearer guidelines and a clearer procedure, said DA spokesman on roads and transport Nico de Jager, who welcomed the new policy.
“There is just one time frame which has not been included, and that is that the JRA has to issue a report for every application. This means it can be delayed for months and even years, so we need to insist on a time frame.”
Council spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane said the reviewed draft policy outlined factors to be taken into account when assessing applications as well as the terms and conditions for approvals.
Some of the critical changes in the reviewed draft policy include: a definition section that explains and interprets words used in the policy; guidelines for applications; the requirement of a two-thirds majority approval by residents; procedures to be followed after an application has been received; relevant time frames; and an explanation of the process on how the meetings with the SAPS to determine the merits of an application should be conducted.
“The draft policy has been approved for public consultation so the public is urged to make input and suggestions,” he said.