I can't have our only city in the Province collapsing and degenerating on my watch - Dr Zamani Saul
WHILE the newly-elected Northern Cape Premier, Dr Zamani Saul, has vowed not to allow Kimberley to “collapse and degenerate” on his watch, more will need to be done to jack up the Sol Plaatje’s town planning section where applications for development are reportedly dogged by apathy – often taking years to get approval.
During his inaugural speech, Saul announced that he had already started work on establishing a “war room” to reduce unemployment and a Northern Cape Growth and Investment Council.
“The primary focus of the investment council will be to ensure economic investment in the Northern Cape, particularly in Kimberley,” Saul stated, adding that the dream of a modern, growing and successful province was about bringing a spark to Kimberley.
“I have arranged a meeting between my office, the mayor, the mayoral committee and the executive management of Sol Plaatje Municipality to look into development plans of the city. I want to repeat it, I can’t have our only city in the Province collapsing and degenerating on my watch.”
Questions, however, have been raised about the municipality’s ability to meet this challenge. According to a report in the Spelum Committee agenda, only 39 alienations (sale of municipal land) were approved in 2017 and 2018. Most of these (if not all) were residential. In 2018, there was only one application approved, according to the report.
“Can the cash-strapped municipality really afford to hold onto municipal land, especially in a city where available land for development is at a premium?” a concerned member of the public questioned yesterday. He added that the only land being developed currently was privately-owned land.
“Why is municipal-owned land not being sold to encourage development in the city and bring in much-needed revenue into the city’s coffers?”
The resident stated further that the municipality’s apparent need to hold onto land was having a devastating effect on the city’s economy and creating further unemployment.
“According to the labour force statistics from Stats SA, a total of 6 000 jobs were lost in the construction industry in the Northern Cape from the fourth quarter of last year (October to December 2018) to the first quarter of this year (January to March 2019). This is a decline of 23%. Year-on-year, 8 000 jobs in this sector were lost in this Province. Kimberley, as the only city in the Province, has an obligation to do everything in its power to encourage development to ensure that jobs are maintained.”
He pointed out, however, that instead, applications for the rezoning of municipal land took years.
“Some applications can take as long as 10 years. By that time, the price of building materials has escalated and the developer is often no longer interested. Often, they have decided to take their development elsewhere where they are not kept hanging for years on end.”
It is believed that the municipality spent hundreds of thousands of rand in providing services, like water, electricity and sanitation, to a property in Homestead more than five years ago. The tender to alienate the land, however, was withdrawn by municipal officials and the land is still standing vacant and has become the target of vandals.
An application from Mediclinic Kimberley/Gariep to the Sol Plaatje Municipality in March 2016 to purchase 2.4 hectares of municipal-owned ground in order to extend the hospital has also been left hanging by the city’s town planning section.
A look at the applications that were submitted to the city council’s Spelum Committee for approval show that some applications were submitted several years ago, some as long as 10 years ago.
In May’s agenda alone there is an application for land in Hodgson Street which dates back to 2013, one for Reserve Road that dates back to 2014, one in Landbou Road in Southridge that goes back to 2012, West End (2014), Kimdustria (2015), next to Newton Primary (2008) and the land next to the archives in Galeshewe (2012).
“With the commitment of the premier and the city’s executive mayor to promote development in Kimberley, one has to question why an investigation has not already been launched into what appears to be a deliberate sabotage of development by certain officials.”
The manager of the municipality’s properties section, Ngoako Modiba, pointed out that there were various factors that had to be taken into consideration before an alienation application could be processed.
“This includes zoning which determines the rights of the property, in terms of what you are able to do with the property and what the property may be used for, i.e. residential use, business rights, and so on.
“In a scenario whereby an applicant applies for a piece of land zoned for residential purposes and uses it for residential purposes the application process will be much easier and less time frames will be attached to it. In a scenario whereby an applicant applies for business or commercial use the application processes becomes complex as the zoning is likely to change from one use to the other (for example “agriculture” to “business”) and various specialist studies are required and conducted.”
These, Modiba added, include environmental impact assessments, traffic impact studies, geo-technical studies and bulk services analysis reports.
“A specialist study such as an EIA (environmental impact assessment) requires authorisation from DENC (Department of Environment and Nature Conservation) which is an external stakeholder and their time frames might be up to seven months.”
Modiba further pointed out that the municipality currently only had 3% of land in the city in its possession, which had to address various social amenities and needs such as human settlements and educational needs (schools, crèche and higher learning institutions).
Quoting the land audit status as of February 2019, he pointed out that 90% of land in the Sol Plaatje Municipality was owned by the private sector.
“This land is not being developed but rather being kept for the value of land to rise and to later sell to potential buyers. The vacant undeveloped privately-owned portions of land are becoming a problem for the municipality and hence the land invasion that occurred on the private piece of land next to West End Cemetery, which was never developed by the Lions Club.”
Modiba stated further that the reality was clear that the demand for land was quite high and the private sector had more land in its hands than the municipality.
“In relation to development that has unfolded, it is clear that development is not only from the private sector but also from the three tiers of government. Among these developments are human settlement projects (Lerato Park, Snake Park, Soul City, Phomolong and Jacksonville) as well as the NDPG (Neighbourhood Development Grant Project), which is aimed at improving infrastructure as well as supporting and facilitating planning and development, like the stormwater upgrade project in Galeshewe. In terms of other developments from sister departments, like Public Works, there is the library in Greenpoint that is currently under construction as well as various upgrades of public schools by the Department of Education.
“Moreover, the municipality has developed a 10-year capital expenditure framework (CEF) which will be an important tool in ensuring long-term infrastructure investment decisions are timeously made in a financially viable way to support the IUDF (integrated urban development framework) objectives in facilitating spatial transformation.”
Regarding the withdrawing of tenders, Modiba said this had been done solely to review the specifications to ensure that priority was given to first-time homeowners.
“The municipality welcomes investment into the city and will ensure that priority is given to various investment opportunities in the city, like the university. The latter was prioritised due to the social and economic impact it has on the Sol Plaatje Municipality and the province of Northern Cape.”