Re-zoning delays killing businesses

Re-zoning delays killing businesses

 Johannesburg’s processing of re-zoning applications is taking twice as long as it should, severely hampering the small businesses sector.

According to a wide range of experts and professionals interviewed by Moneyweb, the processing of applications to re-zone residential land for commercial use has become excessively slow and is getting progressively worse. “Even if it’s a straight forward rezoning application, if it’s in line with the municipal policy, namely the regional spacial development framework (RSDF) … and there are no objections … you would be lucky to get it through in 12 months,” says George Van Schoor, a professional town planner at C-Plan consultants. Straight forward applications should take around six months according to Van Schoor.

This is echoed by Jean-Luc Limacher, the CEO of SA’s biggest town planning consultancy Urban Dynamics. While “there is no question that there is a bottleneck,” Limacher notes that the processing times for applications will vary markedly depending on the nature of the application.

The problem seems to have arisen from a lack of experience and capacity at Johannesburg’s administrative branches charged with processing the applications and extends to the transfer of property ownership.

Johannesburg’s billing crises has worsened the situation, the experts say. With these slow processing times, businesses are finding it more difficult to set-up shop in new areas, reducing their potential access to market. “Each time a small business can’t get re-zoned, he’s losing money, he can’t get set-up,” says Keith Brebnor, CEO of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI).

Van Schoor has 21 years of experience in his field and believes that the problem is getting worse despite the introduction of the RSDF which is designed to fast-track applications that comply with its guidelines. “There have always been undertakings from the top management of town planning that they will improve, but it’s not happening,” he says. “The whole philosophy behind the regional spacial developmental framework is to simplify the process. If an applicant submits an application … the idea is that it should be fast tracked, but that is not happening.”

Van Schoor, Limacher and Brebnor believe that the route of the problem is a lack of experience and capacity at Johannesburg’s municipal departments tasked with handling rezoning applications. This under-capacity has resulted from a loss of experienced staff, high staff turn-over rates and a collapsed mentorship programme, say the experts. As administrative bottlenecks delay the processing of applications, Johannesburg’s billing crises has worsened the plight of those seeking to re-zone.

Brebnor says the billing crisis means that it takes an extremely long time to receive rates and utility clearances: “So even before it gets to the planning [stage to re-zone the property] … you are stuck at first base. “You have a problem where they don’t know who paid rates, who paid for the water and who paid for the land.”

In response to Moneyweb’s queries, Johannesburg Metro’s Deputy Director of Communication Nthatisi Modingoane, said that “Depending on the configuration of the property, geological circumstances, engineering services and number of objections received it is difficult to give an exact time frame for the completion of a rezoning. “In as far as the City's Land Regularisation Programme is concerned, we are looking at legal ways to assist in vesting zoning as expeditiously as possible,” he said.



Denny Crane

Denny Crane
It's not me ... yet. Denny Crane from the TV series Boston Legal. Click on picture if you're not sure who he is!