120613. Cape Town. Western Cape Mayor Patricia De Lille speaking at the Press club -reflecting on her first year in office -picture henk kruger/cape argus

Mayor Patricia de Lille has controversially stripped the City of Cape Town’s planning and environment committee of its delegated decision-making powers, pending a legal review.

And there is speculation the spatial planning, environment and land use management committee (Spelum) may be having its wings clipped politically because a number of its decisions have run contrary to the pro-development policies of De Lille’s DA administration.

Earlier this year Spelum reconfirmed its previous refusal to approve the highly controversial Princess Vlei development – eventually given the green light by planning and environment MEC Anton Bredell on appeal – and several of its other decisions were overturned by the planning and general appeals committee.

De Lille said in an open letter last month she’d suspended Spelum’s decision-making powers pending a review of its delegated authority relating to seven acts, the planning ordinance, zoning regulations and advertising by-law, “with a view to ensuring that the full development needs of the city are met in accordance with the law and the need to facilitate development”.

The matter was discussed by the mayoral committee, “fully cognisant of the needs of developers”.

But because the city’s planning approval process would have ground to a halt while the review was under way, De Lille reinstated Spelum’s operational duties last Tuesday.

However, she asked the committee not to take any decisions, but merely make recommendations.

The only query came from the ANC’s Jerimia Thuynsma, who said Spelum had been given its delegated authority by the full council, not the mayor, and that only the full council could suspend this authority.

Philip Bam, chairman of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, said they were very concerned that De Lille’s action would result in much greater party-political influence in planning decisions.

“Spelum had really listened (to recommendations by planning staff) and made decisions based on that and not on a party-political basis. So it’s very clear (this is) a bad situation for planning and bad for the voice of the people, too,” he said.

De Lille’s spokesman Solly Malatsi said the mayor was the executive authority of the municipality with a monitoring duty over the administration as prescribed by the Municipal Systems Act. In exercising this statutory authority she had requested a wholesale review of all red tape governing planning and development in the city, with a view to improving these processes wherever possible.

“This was in no way related to any of the previous decisions taken by Spelum... but rather part of a broader review of its functions,” he said.

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Cape Argus