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Sol is ‘stalling’ development

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The reason for the application for extra land is purely strategic

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PROPOSED developments in Kimberley are being delayed by years due to the apparent failure of the city’s town planning department to prepare applications for the alienation of municipal land for consideration by the city council.

The section has for more than two years sat on an application to purchase municipal ground for a proposed multimillion-rand development, placing what it has termed “society’s need” for housing above “society’s greed”.

An application was received from Mediclinic Kimberley/Gariep by the Sol Plaatje Municipality in March 2016 – 30 months ago – to purchase 2.4 hectares of municipal-owned ground in order to extend the hospital.

According to normal procedure, the application was circulated to the various municipal departments for comment and approval before going to the Sol Plaatje City Council for approval. While other departments, including electricity, water and sanitation, have approved the alienation, no response has been received from the town planning section, effectively delaying the development and preventing it from being presented to the city council for a final decision.

Spokesperson for Mediclinic Kimberley/Gariep, Denise Coetzee, confirmed on enquiry yesterday that the hospital group had applied to the Sol Plaatje Municipality to purchase 2.4 hectares of municipal-owned land more than two years ago.

“This land is adjacent to the existing Mediclinic Gariep building. To date we have had no response from the municipality and have received no reasons why the application is taking so long.”

According to Coetzee, the reason for the application for extra land is purely strategic.

“We have to plan for future extensions to the existing hospital. We would also like to move the ER24 base to Gariep and also build a housing complex for our Indian staff.”

The group is also investigating the relocation of the hospital building in Du Toitspan Road to the Gariep building. “This is pending approval from Mediclinic Southern Africa and will thereafter be submitted to the Department of Health,” Coetzee added.

“From our side everything is in place. The existing Gariep building was planned and built to accommodate the movement of those wards to the Gariep without any problems.”

In response to media enquiries regarding why major developments such as these, which have the potential to boost the city’s economy, are not prioritised, Sol Plaatje spokesperson, Sello Matsie said that, according to the town planning section, “it is clear that the municipality has adequate health services in terms of CSIR standards and cannot prioritise individual interest as opposed to overall community needs of the municipality, namely housing needs”.

The municipality did not state why it had taken this section more than 30 months to respond to the application from the hospital group.

Decisions

“It is very important to distinguish between the roles and responsibilities of the internal SPM sections, namely town planning and properties. The alienation applications are submitted to the properties section and the council takes informed decisions in relation to sale of land in terms of the Municipal Finances Management Act.”

Matsie pointed out that the municipality currently owns 3% of city land, with which it has to address various social needs such as human settlements as well as educational needs (schools, crèches and higher learning institutions).

He provided a table, based on the land audit of June 2018, which indicates that the municipality owns a total 3% of the total land area of the city, while 90% is in the hands of private residents and 5% is owned by the state. The 3% amounts to a total of 10 044.8715 hectares owned by the municipality.

“From the above it is clear that the municipality must utilise its 3% adequately in order to address the social need as opposed to social greed. Mediclinic acquired five hectares of land from the municipality in 2012. The 2.4 hectares required from the municipality will not be in line with the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) standards for Health and Emergency Services,” Matsie stated.

He added that, according to the town planning section, the Sol Plaatje municipal vicinity, with a population of 260 000 people, had adequate health services in terms of CSIR standards and “cannot prioritise individual interest as opposed to overall community needs of the municipality, namely housing needs”.

“Currently we have sufficient hospitals in town (Lenmed, Mediclinic, Mental Hospital, Medi-Cross, Kim-med, Robert Sobukwe and Careline Clinic) as per the CSIR standards and such facilities must be directed to previously disadvantaged areas (Galeshewe and Roodepan) in order to address spatial transformation in line with the National Development Plan (2030) as well as the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 16 of 2013,” Matsie said.

“Lastly, the municipality has always prioritised the alienation applications that have high economic impact on the municipality, ie the university. The Sol Plaatje University, amongst others, was prioritised due to the social and economic impact it has on the municipality and the Province.”

The comments from the municipality have left several residents totally flabbergasted and shocked.

“This is an extremely narrow point of view. Any major development will bring investment to the city, which it sorely needs. Everywhere you look, businesses are pulling out of Kimberley, and yet a municipal department deliberately delays an application like this because it has decided it is not in the city’s best interests. This should have been presented to council for a decision, not left up to municipal officials to decide whether there are enough facilities or not,” a city resident pointed out.

“Developments not only mean additional income for the municipality from rates and taxes, but also more job opportunities. Extending the hospital will bring more professionals to the city, who will spend their money here, they will buy houses and send their children to local schools. Building houses for the poor is important but surely it is just as – if not more important – to boost job opportunities so that people have the means to buy food and live?”

“One would think that in the face of the rampant unemployment in the city, the municipality would prioritise projects that create jobs,” another resident said.

He pointed out that some town planning applications in Galeshewe took up to six years to be approved by the town planning section.

“One can’t blame members of the public when they invade land. Many of our suburbs in Kimberley do not even have street names – the people living here are being deprived of an opportunity to vote as the IEC requires registered voters to have addresses.”

He added that while the municipality was turning down major developments, the inner city was “imploding” as a result of unauthorised sub-divisions and the non-enforcement of by-laws.

“There are major companies that want to set up branches in Kimberley but they are being sabotaged by municipal officials who take months and even years to do their work. Eventually these businesses give up and go elsewhere because while the municipality stalls, costs keep going up.”

He added that decisions regarding developments, including alienations and sub-divisions, took years in Kimberley.

“Once these applications finally get to council, they are either put in abeyance or never attended to.”

Cope national chairperson, Pakes Dikgetsi, approached the Public Protector’s Office last year to investigate allegations made against the municipality’s town planning section.

“The allegations involve so-called rand-seeking following reports that projects and applications are deliberately delayed with the intention of soliciting bribes,” Dikgets said yesterday.

He added that he had already raised the issue of prolonged delays in the approval of town planning projects with “the powers that be”, as well as the apparent incompetence in some sections.

“There hasn’t been a single Sol Plaatje-initiated development project in the last five years and there is no indication that there will be one in the near future. There is absolutely no innovation or forward-looking to address the challenges facing the city. This is despite the fact that the municipality plays a critical role in job creation and development. If private development is stymied, there will be no jobs in Kimberley.”

Dikgetsi also questioned the lack of a municipal framework for mixed-income housing.

“The municipality cannot state that this land is earmarked for housing, as it has no framework in place. To prevent economic development from taking place on this land is completely out of order. There needs to be a complete change in the way this municipality is managed. We need to empower and capacitate our councillors so that they understand the critical role they play in the development of the city.