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05/09/2016: City’s Planning Department gets a jolt
05 September 2016
Councillor Funzela Ngobeni the new member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Development Planning has had to hit the ground running but in between his induction and familiarizing himself with his new portfolio, he has found time to meet with staff to impress upon them the need for efficiency.

“I believe that we are responsible for a key City Department that must foster excellent working relations to transform the City landscape. As much as I acknowledge that the Department is currently not operating at maximum capacity, we must endeavor to overcome challenges and support clients to meet their own development targets” says MMC Ngobeni.

MMC Ngobeni indicated quite strongly that poor client relations and inexplicable delay of applicants will not be tolerated.

In Joburg the diversity of town planning schemes and the peculiarities and different rules around each scheme does impact on efficiencies. The comfort is that Town Planners operate in defined planning areas and have intimate knowledge of the various schemes. Only in exceptional instances are they moved around but in such instances they are supported by experienced managers with knowledge of their areas of responsibility and the applicable schemes.

According to MMC Ngobeni the City is revising its draft Consolidated Town Planning Scheme, “this will go a long way in standardising our processes and enable Town Planners to work across the various planning areas”.

The Development Planning Department processes land use, building plan and outdoor advertising applications in terms of various legislation and Town Planning Schemes. With regards to land use applications, the City’s Town Planners are trained to be familiar with all the applicable legislation, City policies as well as the areas that they are responsible for. Applications are assessed based on the information provided by the applicant and approved or declined based on the alignment of the application with approved City development policies.

In order to assist the public in determining approvability of land use applications and advising applicants and the broader public, the department has a Help Desk at the Metro Centre that operates from 08h30 to 15h30. Prospective applicants are encouraged to consult the help desk in the preparation of their applications.

“There are millions of rands involved in this business and Planning must ensure that clients are not frustrated by our processes”, says MMC Ngobeni.

He explained that it was critical to track the turn- around times for various types of applications. Side Development Plans (SDPs) and Building Line Relaxations without objections take an average of 28 days to finalise. About 75% of rezoning applications are finalised within 3 months. The major causes of delays are technical reports (i.e. traffic impact assessments) that are required as well as the post approval administration – for instance, promulgation, payment of bulk services, etc.

In law, the City is obliged to process a Building Plan Application within 30 days of submission and manages to currently process approximately 73% of plans submitted within this 30 day period.

He said that he was aware of clients’ complaints regarding delayed applications but said in many instances applications are pended whilst awaiting additional information from the applicant or the process of hearing objectors and appeals was still underway.

“Admittedly, there is room to improve on these efficiencies as well as streamlining the application process, especially in instances where a Building Plan is submitted which triggers a Building Line Relaxation”, says MMC Ngobeni. Continuing he says, “I have been informed that we are currently reconfiguring our plans’ submission and examination processes with a view to streamlining processes and improving processing times. We are also looking to improve our communication and interface with applicants during the application processing stage to keep them informed of progress and advise of additional information requirements timeously”.

As much as there is Ordinance stipulating specific lengths of time to approve or disapprove certain applications like a building plan, it is important to stress however that any applicant whose application is not finalised within the prescribed period CANNOT assume approval but must escalate the matter within the municipality. Applicants can also take the municipality on appeal/ review to the relevant structures (stipulated in the legislation in terms of which the application was submitted) for undue delays.


MMC Ngobeni says, “Clients must also understand that a big driver of efficiency is the quality of applications received. A significant proportion of land use applications are not prepared by professionals and as such are of poor quality which impacts on ease of finalization”. The City is aware of the impact of any undue delays on the property sector and the economy as a whole.

He said that sometimes even building line relaxations could take longer than 28 days to finalise where objections have been received. Such applications are referred to the Municipal Planning Tribunal for consideration and decision. This could add substantial delays as all objectors needed to be heard and even after finalisation, await possible appeals against the decision of the Tribunal.

It is also not unusual to give applicants time to make amendments to applications that have been outstanding for a lengthy period. The time given is based on the kind of information that is requested and how long it might reasonably take to finalise the requirements.

Clients have been previously given time by way of pending applications upon indicating that the information or studies will take time to finalise, however, the Municipal Planning By-laws which have come into operation make provision for applications to be returned if information requested is not received timeously. This is in order to dedicate capacity to applications that can be finalised within the prescribed period.

According to MMC Ngobeni, Planning is in the process of overhauling its building plan administration and filing processes to enable better tracking of plans submitted. Building Development Management also provides one-on-one consultation at the Metro Link Centre for pre-submission assessment with an immediate response for every submission prior commencement with the actual application process. During the plan assessment process, clients also have a platform to follow up personally on their applications on the 6th Floor at Metro Centre in Braamfontein. These consultations (with the Plans Examiners or Chief Plans Examiners) are however intended to be by appointment and ideally with the draftsperson or the architect who drew the plan and not the submission agent, especially if such is not authorised to make amendments on the plan.

To avoid clients having to go back and forth for information or getting documents stamped, Planning has facilitated that Municipal Owned Entities use the Help Desk to sign off on plans on specific dates. This process is used for Site Development Plans so that the technical exchange happens first hand from the architect to the engineers. In instances where there are buildings that don’t comply with land use rights, that is a violation of both land use and building legislation and is subjected to prosecution and penalties by the City.

MMC Ngobeni indicated that he was aware of complaints regarding “bad recording keeping and lost plans” but stressed that it remains the responsibility of the owner to have their own approved building plans and copies. In the event that the owner does not have a copy of approved plans, in law, the onus is on them to have “as built” plans drawn up. Property buyers are encouraged to request copies of approved plans from sellers as part of the sale process especially if they intend altering the building.

Records of plans received are captured on a BAS (Building Applications Systems), microfilm and archives and are retrievable. Approved Building plans are kept for the Councils record purposes.

MMC Ngobeni also said that Planning staff had an obligation to process some applications manually in the event of IT interruptions. He said that he would encourage them to work overtime if necessary and advise clients when such problems occurred. Generally he was satisfied with investments made to stabilise the IT environment.

“I am happy that staff are on board and I expect critical vacant posts to be filled as soon as possible so that the entire Planning Department is fully functional and committed to promoting and supporting urban development in all its forms”, says MMC Ngobeni.
Ends

Issued on behalf of Councillor Funzela Ngobeni
Member of the Mayoral Committee for Development Planning

By

Virgil James
Spokesperson
City of Joburg
082 467 9415
011 407 7226

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Last Updated on 05 September 2016