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Monday May 05, 2014

Cape Town's new planning process 'crisis' for building industry

Architects, builders and 'plan walkers' say the City of Cape Town's new electronic system for planning applications has been offline or patchy since April, creating huge backlogs and a 'crisis' for the building industry.

The waiting area at the City of Cape Town's planning offices.

But the city rejected the claims as 'simply untrue', saying there was no cause for alarm and that teething problems were 'the norm for a computerised system of such magnitude'.

In fact, the city had processed 836 building plan applications and 840 land-use applications since April to date, said Garreth Bloor, mayoral committee member for economic, environmental and spatial planning.

But he added the 'bedding down' of the new system could take between three to six months.

'The City of Cape Town is the only metro in the country to have implemented such a system. It truly is pioneering work and therefore it is natural and reasonable to expect there will be teething problems, such as with the electronic workflow process, which will be resolved within the next week or two.'

The main problems were the workflow circulation between internal departments, which were been given 'a very high priority', and the response when applicants registered as a business partner. The technical glitch meant that the fee line items of the applications could not be identified in the system once payment was made.

But Bloor said only 453 development applications were affected by the technical system glitch and the more than 2 800 development applications submitted between April 1 and May 2 were all at various stages of the process.

The city allocated a three-year budget of R30 million to develop and implement the integrated Development Application Management System that linked to the city's property value chain and accounting system.

It will allow users to submit building plans and land-use applications electronically, for these documents to be circulated electronically between departments and for payment via electronic fund transfer. The new system will standardise business processes across all eight district offices and streamline service at counters.

Despite the city's assurances about what it considers to be acceptable teething problems, several people involved in submitting plans to various council departments came forward with their experiences, particularly of the Plumstead and Athlone district planning offices. They all spoke to the Cape Argus on condition of anonymity as they needed to maintain a sound working relationship with the municipality.

One of the planners, with more than 10 years' experience, said that since paying scrutiny fees, plans submitted from April 1 'were just lying there'.

She said she was told the computer system was not yet set up. She explained offices were still accepting hard copies of submissions, but only one, not the four copies that were previously required. The new system was supposed to enable the information to be sent electronically to the relevant departments, such as fire or heritage. This was also supposed to be within five days of submission. But this was not happening.

The delays were costing her valuable income, as she was only paid on plan approval. She said she was informed by staff at the planning offices that the system was delayed because the city was still waiting for the 'electronic signature'. While she dealt with smaller commercial and residential plans, the cost to larger companies doing big commercial developments would be substantial.

Another planner said: 'There will be a loss of money (for builders and property owners) because of the delays.'

She said she had 200 applications pending in the Plumstead office alone.

However, Bloor said applications could still be circulated to the various internal departments manually. Once the comments were received, the application could be scanned into the system to continue the process for approval.

The Cape Argus visited the Athlone office where a council employee admitted the system had not been working since April 1. He said he could not process the applications because they could not be scanned. He was unable to provide an indication of when the system would be functional.

The staff at this office also told a client that the office closed at 12.30pm. One of the plan walkers said many of the offices were forced to close early so that they could deal with the submissions backlog.

When the Cape Argus phoned the other district offices for information about their systems after noon last week, there was no answer at the Khayelitsha, Athlone or Bellville offices.

But Bloor said it was not true some district offices closed before lunch and that customer counters were open until 2.30pm. Customers could also arrange meetings with their regional or district managers if needed.

Customers with concerns about the system could contact

Cape Times


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