City’s proposed amendment would infringe on the public’s right to be heard

Cape Times, 07 August 2013

Cape Town ratepayers unite against land-use proposal 

A groundswell of opposition is growing, with several civic organisations questioning the city’s democratic principles over a proposal to diminish public participation in land-planning decisions.

Civic organisations have denounced the move as ‘dictatorial’.

Camps Bay Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association chairman Chris Willemse said: ‘The DA is trying to take the public’s rights away in a very meaningful and clever way. They’re saying you can participate to your heart’s desire in the objection period, but all of that goes to an official who will be instructed to approve a development in line with Premier Helen Zille’s red-tape-to-red-carpet treatment for developers.’

The city’s proposal to amend economic, environmental and spatial planning matters will mean that applications for large-scale developments and other landuse plans would go through the council without an opportunity for the public to be consulted or lodge objections.

Currently, decisions on land-use applications are shared between officials and political structures like subcouncils and the spatial planning, environment and landuse management committee.

The public may attend subcouncil meetings when planning issues are discussed and are allowed to make representations. However, if the amendment is passed, this will no longer be the case as the proposal is that the decisions will rest with one executive director.

Civic organisations are amplifying their concerns as the proposal is meant to come before the council later this month. Various ratepayers’ associations have joined the criticism raised earlier by the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance which represents more than 140 residents’ and ratepayers’ associations.

The alliance has appealed to mayor Patricia de Lille to withdraw the proposal, while its online petition against the proposal has garnered more than 400 signatures in the past three days. According to a report on the amendments to the delegation for economic, environmental and spatial planning matters, ‘there is a need to simplify, streamline and shorten existing processes’ for environmental and spatial planning.

Willemse said: ‘The city keeps saying that subcouncils will still be there, but the issue is about decision-making and our objections will disappear and it will go to mayco to be rubber-stamped. No matter what the public says, all powers will go to an official who could have an agenda, who could be corrupt or who might just not care, and that can’t be right in a democracy.’

ANC councillor Jerimia Thuynsma, a subcouncil chairman and member of the city’s spatial planning, environment and land use management committee, said the amendment would infringe on the public’s right to be heard.

‘Public participation is the cornerstone of democracy. The city broke down the metro into subcouncils to consult on a local level with residents and now they are trying to take that away… I am totally against public input being taken away as it is a vital tool for us in making informed decisions.’

Along with other controversial development decisions which were met with strong opposition during the public comment phase, such as the city’s support to amend the urban edge for a development on valuable agricultural land in Philippi and supporting the Wescape proposal near Melkbosstrand, civic groups said the city’s latest proposal was the ‘systematic dismantling of democracy’.

Mark Magielse, co-chairman of the Green Point Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association, said: ‘We are completely taken aback by this, to think that a council can cut out public participation is puzzling. If you take away transparency, you open yourself up to all kinds of negative assumptions of misconduct and without transparency, one would almost expect that every approved plan would have to be audited to ensure that there is no malintent or hidden benefit.’

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