The City of Cape Town has been lambasted by business people and property developers for putting the brakes on new property developments in 144 areas because its sewerage system cannot sustain them.
The city released a media statement last week saying in certain suburbs, clearance for new developments to connect to the sewerage system will have to wait for the completion of major capacity upgrades at the Potsdam, Zandvliet, and Macassar wastewater treatment works.
A press release was issued in the names of Xanthea Limberg, a mayco member for water and waste, and Marian Nieuwoudt, mayco member for spatial planning and the environment said: “To ensure sustainable development, it is necessary that these plants operate within existing capacity while major upgrades are under way.”
“Over the next three years, almost 50% of the city’s R25 billion capital expenditure plan will be invested in water and sanitation infrastructure. The city is further projecting a minimum R8bn investment for major wastewater treatment works upgrades over the next 10 years.”
However, Jacques Moolman, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says this “nice try at virtue-signalling would be better received had it been made 10 years ago”.
“Then it would have proved that there were people on the council payroll who could think further into the future than the end of the month.”
He says the release was signed by the heads of the two departments who “should have seen this bottleneck coming”.
“Did no one in the council until now figure out that the sewerage system would soon not be able to keep up with developments? Do those in the various departments in the Byzantine recesses of the city bureaucracy speak to each other? It would appear not.
“Boasting about the number of plans passed is one thing the council servants are good at. Thinking about the implications for the sewerage system should have followed.”
The city’s decision means that all plans for new construction in the more than 144 designated areas will have to wait for permission to lay a brick.
“That’s around 12 dozen individually listed areas plus all suburbs in Gordon’s Bay, Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, the Strand, Somerset West, Firgrove, Croydon, Faure, Macassar, and surrounding rural areas,” Moolman says.
Deon van Zyl, chairperson of the Western Cape Property Development Forum says the City’s announcement that it is effectively closed for investment in the Potsdam, Macassar and Zandvliet wastewater treatment catchment areas are “shocking”.
“The first practical reality is that this will stifle the property development and construction industries for the next three to six years, with the result being associated job losses and businesses (for which this will be the last straw) closing their doors. However, even more significant is that we need to stop and think what this is going to mean for the average Cape Town ratepayer.”
The same situation that has seen electricity prices skyrocketing due to ongoing underinvestment by Eskom will now play out in Cape Town, he adds.
“The estimated R8.7 bn upgrades, which have been ignored for so very long, will now cost ratepayers directly. In other words, it is Capetonians themselves who will now have to pay for the upgrades.
“If development is not happening, then there is no increase in the tax base of new ratepayers who can contribute towards paying off the debt. This means the onus increases on the current ratepayer base.”
Van Zyl says ratepayers should therefore prepare for substantial increases in rates or sewage levies, or a combination of the two.
“This is truly Eskom happening in Cape Town. You can ignore reality only for so long.”
While capacity upgrades are under way at the Potsdam, Zandvliet, and Macassar treatment works, the city says it is necessary to ensure sustainable development in suburbs falling within the drainage areas for these three plants. However, it will still receive, assess, and finalise development applications as usual.
Nieuwoudt says: “Given that preparations for most large developments take years, we strongly recommend that developers still go ahead and submit their applications to the city. Once they have the necessary approvals it means there will be no delays, and construction plans can be aligned for connection to the sewerage system as soon as the new capacity at the specific water treatment plant becomes available.”
She urges landowners and development professionals to set up pre-application meetings with the city’s Development Management Department so that they can be informed of the implications for their specific projects. Some projects will be permitted to proceed.