Policy will ‘deny’ Public Voice

People’s Post
By teresa.fischer
2013-06-18

 

Objectors say changes to the role of subcouncils will “virtually shut down the present space for public participation”.

The Proposed Amendments to the System of Delegations for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning Matters of the City of Cape Town was due to be tabled as agenda item a recent Council meeting.

This policy has been described as the “unilateral” concentration of planning administration in the city in one central office, removing all land use planning decision-making from the various subcouncils.

The item was recently removed from the agenda, but Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance (GCTCA) chairperson Len Swimmer fears it could still become a “fait accompli”.

The City confirms it is considering an amendment to its System of Delegations for the Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning matters. The GCTCA, which represents 160 civic organisations, has sent an open letter of objection to Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.

The GCTCA writes if these proposals are adopted, they will “virtually shut down entirely the present space for public participation”.

Swimmer says: “Subcouncils will no longer have the same role. Previously if we found a planning application undesirable we could ask for an interview at subcouncil, which then refused or approved the application which could still be taken to province on appeal.”

This could now be changed to all land use applications (in the South Peninsula) being decided by the local district planning office in Plumstead. “Only people with a pecuniary (monetary) interest would be able to object to such planning applications, when the new laws are in place.”

Swimmer warns: “Civil organisations will have no say,” he says, adding: “Civic society’s democratic space is in the process of being closed down. We have a big fight on our hands.”

Noordhoek resident Glenn Ashton, a researcher of civil society, describes this is an “unprecedented attack through collusion between political and commercial interests”.

He says a number of events lead him to this conclusion, including “increasing cosiness” between the DA-led city and province and the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF).

The latter’s goal is to become a body that represents development that is recognised by authorities.

But, Ashton says: “To even consider having a forum, guided, run and controlled by property developers as a statutory, recognised body should send chills down our collective backs.”

He adds the proposed red carpet to smooth planning proposals, while ostensibly sensible, is simultaneously a massive threat to proper integrated planning.

Ashton says the “unilateral” concentration of planning administration in the city in one central office, removing land use planning decision-making from the various subcouncils, together with the gutting of the Spatial Planning, Environment and Land-use Management committee by the Mayoral Executive Committee are “even more sinister moves from a democratic perspective”.

Ashton says: “What appears to be under way is an unprecedented takeover of the planning and development of our city by developers and building companies which hold massive power through their non-transparent funding of political parties.”

But Councillor Garreth Bloor, Mayoral Committee Member for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning, says the proposed revisions are “not designed to diminish the role of subcouncils”.

He says they are “designed to ensure that decisions made by sub-councils are grounded in policy”.

Bloor adds: “Subcouncils are important actors in the public participation process and commenting on policy and local area plans as representatives closest to the people. We acknowledge and value this role.”

He sums up the argument saying “strengthening policy-driven certainty is critical for an open liberal market economy”.

Bloor says: “Uncertainty undermines investor confidence for everyone from the small applicant to large job creating enterprises. An environment where individuals are certain that they are equal before the law and where there are process certainty is an essential part of a democratic and opportunity rich society.

“We believe in the principle of decentralising power to communities. Having one head accountable is part of any organisation’s structure and simply equals good governance. He is accountable for implementation of policy, not its determination. That is a political function.”

Swimmer observed that Bloor was mistaken in his view that the proposed revision of Delegations did not diminish the role of subcouncils, because it is perfectly clear from the agenda item due to be placed before the City Council that it is planned to remove much of subcouncils’ present powers, including their entire delegated authority in respect of land use planning.

Nicki Holderness, chairperson of the Far South Peninsula Community Forum, says: “Public participation is a constitutional obligation for all spheres of government.”

 

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