The decision by the Planning and Building Management Department of the Cape Town City Council to replace the city’s 27 ‘archaic’ separate zoning schemes with a single zoning scheme covering the entire city could just be the good news that Cape property developers have waited two decades to hear, says Paul Henry, MD of Rawson Developers.
The scheme, which will shortly undergo its final round of public participation, is based, said Henry, on the premise that a unified city needs a unified zoning system, one that does not reflect past discrimination and is capable of responding to today’s challenges.
The new, simpler rulings, he said, will make property developers’ lives far more straightforward. They should streamline the approval process and could lead to the lengthy period caused by objections to proposed projects being cut by 60%.
“Until now, every one of the 27 zones had rulings which applied specifically to it and perhaps one or two other zones – there was almost no standard system. It was impossible to be aware of and comply with all these different regulations.
“Now, with a simplified system throughout Cape Town Metropole, it is, we hope, possible that objections and holdbacks will be handled far more expeditiously The playing field will be level.”
Henry commented that all those in property development can testify that the current practice of allowing any concerned or interested parties to object to, and hold up, basically sound projects has resulted in immense extra costs and in many worthwhile schemes not going ahead.
“Right now,” he said, “at Rawson’s we have six schemes in the pipeline. We are one of the few Cape developers to be going ahead despite the lack of bank finance and buyers’ bonds – but every one of our projects has been, or will be, held up while relatively trivial objections are dealt with. This adds dead interest costs to the project and often results in our having to redesign (also an expensive process) to stay within budget.”
The public perception that developers need rigid control is, said Henry, by and large inaccurate.
“If you look at such precincts as the foreshore and the northern side of the city, parts of Woodstock and Observatory, the Muizenberg beachfront, Grassy Park or the Tokai CBD, there can be no question but that what has been built in the last two decades has greatly improved those areas. Obviously some areas should be left alone – but many do need upgrades and, in fact, benefit from densification.”
Part of the problem facing developers, said Henry, is that people buy into areas without checking their zoning. Then, a few years down the line, they discover that on a nearby stand a developer is exercising his right, in terms of its zoning, to build, say, a seven storey complex.
“They then find all kinds of peripheral reasons for objecting to the project – and these have to be dealt with. The scheme, which already conforms to the zoning requirements, gets held back one, two or even three years. Nothing is really achieved except a delay and a consequent addition to the costs – and good work opportunities are thrown out of the window.
“Now that Cape Town areas will have to conform to a single system it is hoped that planning approval delays will be much reduced – after all, new homes are a necessity, as is a faster creation of work opportunities.”