John Nicholson, the founder of a community library called, "Siyafunda". Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

Cape Town -  The City of Cape Town said on Friday it had not given instruction for a community library in Lavender Hill started by John Nicholson in his garage to be shut down.

"I can confirm that the City’s Development Management Department did not give an instruction, nor serve a notice on the property owner, John Nicholson, to shut down the library that he has been operating from his garage in Lavender Hill," Councillor Eddie Andrews said in a statement on Friday.

On Thursday IOL carried a story from the Daily Voice in which Nicholson - who was hailed a hero for starting his Siyafunda library in his garage to help neighbourhood children to read - said he had been forced to shut down because he did not have a building plan for the garage.

Nicholson and his wife Gail, of Hillview, were hoping to replace the metal sheeting on the roof, which has holes and leaks when it rains.

They were approached by a sponsor to assist with the repairs, but the couple said that when they contacted the City for a new plan for their property, they were told the garage was built illegally and that the City had ordered that he remove the garage or face a R30 000 penalty.

Read more: City of Cape Town shuts down hero’s backyard library

On Friday, Andrews said that the R30 000 ‘penalty’ being imposed by the City was not true.

He explained that:

 * To date, the City has not conducted any inspections at the property.

* On March 27, 2018, the donor conduit and executive director of Biblionef, Jean Williams, contacted the Cape Flats district planning office asking to set up an appointment for assistance as there were no building plans for the carport structure owned by Nicholson. Biblionef received a donation from a Belgian donor to repair of the roof, but Williams wanted to ensure that the property was compliant before the donation could be utilised.

* On March 28, 2018, Nicholson and Williams met with an official to discuss the process that needed to be followed in order to submit a building plan to regularise the unauthorised carport structure, and to replace the roof as well as obtain the land use application that is required in order to use the premises for purposes other than its intended residential use.

* Nicholson was informed that his current unauthorised structure will incur an administrative penalty in terms of the Municipal Planning By-law, 2015. He was informed that the amount would have to be determined by the Municipal Planning Tribunal (MPT) according to the relevant criteria. At no stage did any official mention an amount, as this would need to be determined by a committee. The claim about a R30 000 penalty is therefore not true.

* During the meeting, Nicholson indicated that the roof was in bad condition. This was of major concern. Nicolson was advised to submit a building plan for the structure.

* Importantly, by the end of the meeting, Nicholson and Williams agreed to ensure that due process is followed in order to ensure that the structure would be compliant.

Andrews said that his office contacted Williams, who informed them that she, together with Nicholson, "decided out of their own will to pack up the books in the library". 

"They did so on March 28, 2018 following their meeting with the land use official. They decided to store the books while the roof, which needed to be repaired, was removed."

Arrangements have been made to accommodate the children, who are part of the library initiative, at a nearby church. There they will have access to two trunks of books. The remaining books are currently being stored at Bibilonef. 

Andrews said: "The City welcomes and appreciates initiatives by residents who are contributing to the wellbeing of their communities. As such, we are appreciative of Nicholson’s efforts in establishing the library, and we are doing all we can to assist from our side to ensure that the building complies with the National Building Regulations and Municipal Planning By-law.

"We are pleased that Nicholson and Williams approached us for assistance to ensure that they follow due process, in line with the National Building Regulations and the Buildings Standards Act. These national regulations, as well as our Municipal Planning By-law, are in place to provide owners with the certainty that their structures are safe for occupants. The activity will also require a land use consent application as the property is zoned for residential purposes.

"Given that the users of this space are children, all of us must work together to ensure that the safety aspect of the structure is not compromised. Officials are committed to assisting Nicholson and Williams to ensure that the building is compliant."