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Monday Feb 04, 2013

Joburg's illegal building chaos leads to rapid urban decay

In an about-turn, the City of Joburg admitted it has lost control of its ability to stop the many town-planning infringements taking place throughout the municipality.

City member of the mayoral committee responsible for development planning and urban infrastructure, Ros Greeff, admitted at the weekend that procedures were slow and were not working and were leading to the rapid decay of many areas across the city.

Addressing a public meeting in Cyrildene on Thursday, called by angry residents to voice their concern at the burgeoning number of building transgressions in the area, Greeff said property owners are completely disregarding orders, including court orders, issued by the council to stop illegal construction.

The main concern in the area is the building of additional rooms around residential properties temporarily to accommodate Chinese people who are coming into the country. The structures do not comply with building standards, do not adhere to proper health, sanitary or fire conditions, and cause overcrowding.

Residents and the ward councillors say the council does absolutely nothing to stop this, and that calls and e-mails logging complaints are not even responded to.

Alison van der Molen, ward councillor for Cyrildene and Bruma, says she has logged 1 200 transgressions in her ward alone, and not one has been acknowledged, never mind acted upon.

"There are some old cases against illegal building going on in this area which date back to 2006 and which are still stuck in the legal system somewhere," she said.

In terms of the Municipal Systems Finance Act, the council is obliged to provide feedback to residents' complaints, and this is not being done.

Residents and ward councillors were simply being ignored by the town planning department, she said.

Rob Crawford of the local community policing forum said there had been no prosecutions or demolitions, or visible signs of action to discourage the lawlessness.

"Some of our complaints go back five years. No one cuts illegal connections. People add rooms as they please, causing overcrowding and health issues."

Councillor Carlo da Rochas, whose ward comprises parts of Bez Valley, Kensington, Bertrams and Observatory, said entire "villages" were springing up in backyards in his ward.

"I send photos, reports and e-mails almost on (a) daily basis to the town planning department and no one even responds. Town planning has lost control over our wards. I have illegal businesses in almost every block in my ward. Neighbours are losing money in their investments and the council, therefore, loses out on revenue."

Ronaldo Sorban of the Observatory Residents' Association said the blight was spreading to his area as well, and again, no one was listening to complaints. "The rot has to stop," he said. Greeff said positive things had been achieved in Cyrildene. A survey had been conducted and out of 85 properties visited, 32 transgressions had been found, 27 of which were illegal accommodation establishments. Twenty two had been handed over to attorneys for legal action, and two court orders were ready to be issued.

"The by-laws are not tough enough and the city has not been proactive enough. Even when we are alerted immediately at the start of building operations, and we issue stop orders, we are ignored, and once they have put a roof on the structure... we can no longer evict as the high court has ruled that we then have to find the occupants alternative accommodation," she said.

City mayor Parks Tau had now asked her to put together a new task team to specifically address this issue, she said.

"We are looking at solutions which will include immediate demolition by JMPD, transferring the matter from the high court to the magistrate's courts, reintroducing fines, and involving the SAPS and laying of criminal charges," she said.

The Star

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