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Monday Oct 01, 2012

Storm over Durban outdoor adverts

A massive advertising "wrap" covering almost half of a multi-storey Durban building has sparked a legal storm in which the eThekwini municipality is accused of adopting a "farcical, selective and unconstitutional stance" to outdoor advertising, an industry that generates more than R1 billion a year in SA.

The Tasnim centre in Durban.

The owner of the building in Bertha Mkhize (formerly Victoria) Street, MHT Investments Pty Ltd, and the company which put up the "wrap", Admed Investments CC, are not only opposing a Durban High Court application by the city for an order forcing them to take it down. They have also launched a counterapplication seeking to declare the city's bylaws pertaining to advertising signs and billboards unconstitutional.

Their secret weapon is their consultant, Ashveer Dwarikapersadh, the city's former "approval officer" who says the signage department controls the industry in an "arbitrary and biased manner".

He says the city relies on building by-laws approved in 1978 and, because of the incorporation of areas into what is now a unicity, there are hundreds of billboards on buildings and bridges belonging to the city which contravene these.

He says the by-laws are only used as an enforcement tool against "some offenders".

"I came to the conclusion that the approval process was a farce because there is no real adjudication, no real rational criteria in terms of law to evaluate applications, a blind eye was turned to unapproved billboards and enforcement became selective," he says in his affidavit filed before the court.

The city went to court last week claiming that the wrap - an advertisement for sports drink Lucozade which covers about eight storeys of the Tasnim Centre - was a "serious and imminent danger" to the occupants of the building and members of the public because it was not properly secured and was a fire hazard.

Officials said that it had been erected furtively over two weekends without any permission whatsoever.

MHT Investments director Hassen Parukh says two officials - who are not qualified and who do not have any expertise to comment on health and safety matters - visited the building but did not go inside or inspect the wrap.

He says the installation was done professionally - it has an engineer's stability certificate - and it is very secure, withstanding the strong winds Durban had experienced of late. He says the fabric is durable and fire resistant and has been used in other similar wraps in Joburg and Pretoria.

It did not affect the occupants of the building.

In fact, conditions had improved because you could see through it from inside but it blocked out sun and heat.

He admitted that it had been put up over two weekends, but this was because there was reduced public and traffic movement.

"The suggestion that it was done furtively is rejected. By its very nature, the sign can be seen from any part of upper Durban. Its installation could never have been done secretly," he said.

Parukh said that when he first become involved with MHT in 1990 the building had a mix of tenants with shops on the ground floor. But the influx of hawkers to the area - which was not controlled by the city - chased these tenants away, resulting in a huge reduction in income from rentals.

"In the past few years, rates and electricity have gone up by between 20 percent and 30 percent a year - putting further strain on the viability of the building.

"The tenant mix is now on the end of marginal businesses - tailors and seamstresses. To increase rental would kill them off. At some stage, we considered mothballing the building and letting it stand empty."

He said this made Admed's proposal to install the advertising structure on the building inviting because it meant extra money to keep the building going.

When the matter came before Judge Themba Sishi last week, it was adjourned until October 16.

The Mercury

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