An artist's impression of Wescape, the planned mini city expected to be built between Melkbosstrand and Atlantis.

Cape Town - Applications for large-scale developments and other land-use plans may soon be pushed through council without any opportunity for consultation or objections from affected parties.

The City of Cape Town is considering changes to the way all decisions about land use and environmental and spatial planning will be made.

According to the proposal, which has already been considered by the mayoral committee, all decision-making powers for these matters - which are currently shared between officials and political structures such as the subcouncils and the spatial planning, environment and land-use management committee - will rest with one executive director. This means Japie Hugo, as executive director of economic, environmental and spatial planning, will have the final say on all applications and land use matters “regardless of whether objections have been received”.

The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance has cried foul over the “undemocratic and unconstitutional” changes, which it fears will “prevent any public participation that might thwart a plan devised behind closed doors in the city council, but not seen by the community to be in their best interests”.

The alliance’s Len Swimmer has written to mayor Patricia de Lille asking her to reconsider the proposal: “We suggest that, if introduced, these changes will severely damage the city’s carefully protected image as a caring city, and the DA’s claim to open, transparent government.”

Last year, De Lille called for a review of the spatial planning, environment and land-use management committee’s delegations pending a review of its delegated authority relating to the planning ordinance, zoning regulations and other legislation.

The amendments to the delegation for economic, environmental and spatial planning matters were withdrawn from the council agenda last week, but there is no indication that the city has any intention of dropping its plans to centralise land-use planning decisions in one office.

The Cape Argus sent questions about the new delegations to Garreth Bloor, of the mayoral committee for economic, environmental and spatial planning. His response was brief: “We are considering the proposals as part of our strategic commitment to driving economic growth, development and inclusion.”

Bloor did not respond to questions about whether the executive director would have the capacity to handle all the applications and issues, or whether the city might be forced to outsource to bodies such as the Western Cape Property Development Forum.

The forum was established to “interact with the city to address existing processes” and to ensure these are streamlined to deal with issues that “might impede development”.

Swimmer said it was probably so that the forum could step in to assist the council with land-use matters.

However, this could lead to a conflict of interests if a member of this forum was involved in a development proposal under consideration. For example, one of the key players in the R140-billion Wescape development, Bellandia, is a member of this forum.

Bloor did not explain why the item on delegations was withdrawn from the council agenda, or when it would be considered again. He did not say if De Lille would respond to the alliance about its concerns.

According to the unsigned report on the new delegations, “there is a need to simplify, streamline and shorten existing processes” for environmental and spatial planning. They should be considered in relation to broader legislative changes, including proposals for a municipal planning tribunal that will exclude political representatives.

The executive director will be able to choose whether he wants to exercise his delegations or refer the matter to the executive mayor and the mayoral committee. He can also sub-delegate to officials in his directorate.

The report also notes that subcouncils, stripped of their authority to intervene on planning matters, may still deal with the naming of streets - as long as it does not involve a land-use application.

In the May version of the proposed amendments, the city’s legal department noted that: “Due to the urgency of the report and the time constraints, we have had insufficient time to make a determination in respect of legal compliance.”

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Cape Argus