Time to de-bug municipal planning departments

Local authorities should make use of the lull in the property market to revamp and upgrade their planning departments.

Gerhard Kotzé, CEO of the ERA South Africa property group, says now is the time to de-bug these departments to ensure that when the market returns to growth, they will be better equipped to deal with their workload.

“It’s common cause that planning departments were a major bottleneck in the approval process for new property developments during the recent property boom. Projects were held up, time lost and costs increased substantially because planning departments were under-staffed and ill-equipped to deal with a large volume of activity.

“Now of course there are new problems, mainly in the shape of long lead times for electrical connections to development sites. Assuming however that Eskom continues to get its act into gear, it would be ironic indeed if a return to health for the property sector were to be stymied once more by lack of planning department capacity.

“Surely it’s sensible to use the breathing space afforded by the present quiet market to de-bottleneck in this respect?”

He says it’s understandable that municipalities may not wish to invest heavily at a time when planning departments, as profit centres, are less busy, but that improvements to systems, processes and technology could be carried out comparatively inexpensively and that upgrades and retraining of existing personnel must surely be an option.

“An example of the deployment of new technology is the use of Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA), to assess properties for rating purposes, in compliance with the Municipal Property Rates Act introduced last year. This system is somewhat controversial but the principles behind its use, that is increased efficiency and time and money savings, are what’s needed to expedite the planning approval function.”

Without such commitment, Kotzé says, planning departments in municipalities could again be swamped and that will not be good news for a market that will, in time, be battling to cope with pent up demand.

“The last thing we want to see is developers walking away from a strengthening market in sheer frustration or being forced to over-price stock because of extended holding costs caused by planning delays. In short, it’s a case of learning from previous mistakes.”

Article from: - www.era.co.za