The City of Cape Town’s Council recently approved the new Municipal Planning By-law which will affect all property within the municipal boundaries of Cape Town and will change the city’s property, planning and development environment. Increased transparency and public involvement lies at the heart of the by-law. It also proposes a tougher approach to enforcement of land use, building and development regulations. 

It is expected that the national Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) will come into effect on 1July 2015. Municipalities need to have a municipal planning by-law in place to, amongst others, give effect to the requirements set out in SPLUMA.

To date, municipalities throughout the country have dealt with planning matters in terms of various old-order planning ordinances and acts, some dating back as far as the 1970s and 1980s. This resulted, in some instances, in a fragmented planning system.

The constitutional court found that the state of affairs was inconsistent with the powers intended for municipalities.

The Constitution asserts that municipal planning matters are the responsibility of local government. In this regard, municipal planning is a competency assigned to local authorities. This means that a municipality has to legislate and to adopt by-laws to regulate municipal planning matters.

Leading in the municipal sphere across the country, and in anticipation of the implementation of the SPLUMA, the City drafted a by-law and embarked on a participation process involving broad discussion and valuable public input.

‘The City is giving effect to its constitutional responsibility by implementing a single planning system with equal application across the entire metro. Until now, the planning system has been known to be legislatively fragmented. The fragmentation has led to the duplication of processes which results in time-consuming and complex procedures – not conducive to the enabling environment for opportunity and growth that we want to create in partnership with the private sector and the broader society.

‘In March 2013, the City consolidated its 27 different outdated zoning schemes into the single Cape Town Zoning Scheme and it has continually been driving the modernisation of the wider planning system.

‘The by-law allows the City to consider all planning applications within locally suited context. This will have particular impact with regard to spatial planning procedures and enforcement mechanisms. We believe that the innovative systems built into the by-law will reduce red tape, increase public involvement in the processes, and enable more responsive development regulation, thereby unlocking investment and job creation. This by-law is a progressive document which will promote compliance and transparency.

‘Furthermore, overhauling the outdated enforcement system will allow the City’s inspectors to be more responsive and equitable in addressing contraventions, thereby protecting the rights of residents from unauthorised nuisances,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Energy, Environmental and Spatial Planning, Councillor Johan van der Merwe.

As required by national legislation, the by-law will lead to the creation of a municipal planning tribunal which will be responsible for taking decisions on assigned planning applications in future. The tribunal will consist of independent members of the public as well as City officials with knowledge and experience in land use and spatial planning and development.

Tribunal members will be subject to a strict code of conduct, including the declaration of potential conflicts of interest in respect of work or other duties.

‘The establishment of the tribunal, and the involvement of suitable members of the public, sends a clear signal of the City’s intention of championing good governance and transparency within its processes. We are drawing from local resources to build the City that we collectively envisage,’ said Councillor Van der Merwe.

Planning decisions will be subject to an internal appeal by the parties to an application to the City’s Executive Authority. SPLUMA dictates that this should be the Executive Mayor, where the structure of the municipality allows for this, as is the case with the City. The by-law also makes provision for the establishment of an advisory body to advise the Executive Mayor on appeal decisions.

‘The by-law will undergo review on an annual basis so that the City might correct any measures that require adjustment or improvement as governance is an ongoing conversation. Municipal administration needs to be supple enough to respond to the needs of residents, but firm enough to uphold the rights of residents when confronted with unsanctioned behaviour. We believe that the by-law achieves both of these requirements in a balanced manner.

‘It is a significant accomplishment that the City should have achieved this objective within the allotted time-frame, ensuring that this governmental body continues to be efficient, effective, and compliant in its administrative capacity,’ said Councillor Van der Merwe.