Paul Henry of Rawson Developers takes up the cudgel on bereaucratic delays

Cape property developers have reached a stage where, if there is not soon a drastic change in the speed with which development plans obtain approval – or are rejected – and a concomitant speedy method of dealing with objections - they will have to ‘close up shop’, said Paul Henry, Managing Director of Rawson Developers

Aligning himself with, and quoting, some hard-hitting criticisms made recently by the Cape Institute of Architects on this subject, Henry said that, “it remains unacceptably difficult to obtain approvals for the construction of buildings or for other development within the area of jurisdiction of the City of Cape Town”.

“This,” said Henry, “was the Institute’s polite and diplomatic way of saying that the current situation is a complete mess.”

A survey undertaken in October 2009 by the Institute, said Henry, had shown that 74% of the respondents did not consider the processes of plan approval to be administered in a business-like manner and 93% did not consider the Council’s Plan Approval and Land Use Service to be satisfactory.

Eighty percent of respondents, said Henry, reported that they regularly experienced problems and 88% said that, despite promises, there had been no improvement in the service over the last 12 months.

The survey, said Henry, reported that a ‘lack of will and urgency’ in dealing with these problems by officials is now so serious that they are ‘forced to question the ability of those involved’.

Henry added that the Council’s inefficiencies in this sector are particularly annoying in light of several statements that their aim is to encourage investment and economic growth in the Cape Town metropolitan district at a faster rate than that of any other city in South Africa.

“Those of us who rely on ongoing development to earn a living have been thwarted all along the line by a top-heavy bureaucracy which is always willing to make promises and commitments - and then to forget them.

“What they fail to accept is that developers like ourselves who are mainly active in the residential sector provide an essential service to home-seekers and investors and create a great many jobs for construction workers. They also remain tragically unaware of the basic economic realities: if a scheme is held up for an unreasonably long period it will become non-viable - and may well bankrupt the developer, as has happened time and time again in the last two years.”

“While the situation regarding holdups due to objections is also not acceptable,” said Henry, “it is absolutely imperative that the objection processes be reviewed to cut down the time these can take.

“Across the length and breadth of South Africa there are privileged minorities who have ensconced themselves in one or other area - and then object to other people moving in there. No matter how attractive or well designed the scheme is, they will hold it up as long as they can.”

Similarly, said Henry, ‘a whole new brigade’ of self-appointed experts will stop projects because ‘a few toads or caterpillars might have to move their homes 100m.

“As a dedicated conservationist I have to say that objectors here often do little or no research.”

Objectors, said Henry, are frequently backed by leading figures, not because their objections are valid but because they want to be seen as ‘PC’ - politically correct. They will almost invariably support any objection because a decision to support the developer might antagonise their circle.

“Many of our legislators and decision makers need greater knowledge of planning issues. They should try to see the bigger picture and not be swayed by short term political considerations,” said Henry.

“It has to be accepted,” he added, “that there are certain projects which are definitely not desirable - but these developments seldom get out of the starting blocks. The current tragedy is that good schemes designed by highly reputable architects in collaboration with experienced developers and conservation oriented landscapers are then held up and killed off by small, highly articulate minorities whose aims are often purely selfish and of the ‘NIMB’ - not in my backyard - variety.”

Henry said that as so much is at stake for so many in the property sector, it is essential that the Premier and the mayor now become involved to bring about change.

“Both have called for improved delivery. As developers we are important deliverers – but we are shackled by delay.”

Cape Town’s longest serving property reporter/PRO, Tim Cartwright, said that in his opinion every one of these statements deserves consideration.

“For some three or four years,” he said, “I was involved with a development in the Boland, every aspect of which seemed to me praiseworthy. Ongoing objections from a variety of influential sources resulted in the scheme being held up for so long that the developers and their backers will now have what appear to be almost insurmountable challenges to render the scheme profitable.”

Article by: www.rawson-developers.co.za