New zoning scheme 'could damage character' of Cape Town

One set of zoning rules for all in a city as diverse as Cape Town is not necessarily a good thing, writes Patrick Dowling of the Greater Cape Town Alliance.

The city's announcement of the new Integrated Zone Scheme (CTZS), effective as of Friday, is meant to rid the metro of apartheid-style planning policy, cut red tape and contain urban sprawl.
Some of this is true, but it is also likely to bring with it problems that could radically change the character of the city and undermine its sustainability. These have been largely ignored by planners despite their having been pointed out often.

For one thing, no minimum erf size has been set. This paves the way for cramped urbanisation, not just wise densification, and heralds a field day for developers focused on maximising rental income and speculative subdivision. Without identifying a minimum erf size or areas suitable for second dwellings it is not possible to ensure that the infrastructural carrying capacity of a given area will be maintained.

Generally, depending on the matter of "overlay zones" which are still being finalised, building to three storeys will become an "as of " right even on small plots, with heights up to 15 metres allowed for group housing. Allowing this on coastal properties and other sensitive areas will be additionally threatening to ecosystems, public access, recreational space, sense of place and view corridors.

The comforting suggestion that the urban edge overlay zone will help "achieve a sensitive transition between urban and rural or conservation areas, to contain urban sprawl and to protect valuable natural and agricultural resources adjacent to urban development" must be evaluated against the trend of regular disregarding of the edge when it does not suit developers and planners, as in Durbanville.

Likewise the matter of heritage value has been lightly acknowledged in some places like Simon's Town and Green Point but ignored in others like Kommetjie and Durbanville.

Then, while it is suggested that overlay zones which could require larger plot sizes and other restrictions, can be applied for, these already exist for some areas such as Constantia, Hout Bay and Noordhoek.

There are other potentially alarming aspects. The removal of Service Industrial zoning in former Divisional Council areas is replaced by Light Industrial which accommodates a range of activities including running a crematorium and allowing building heights of 18m. The burden of policing the negative impacts of inappropriate light industrial activities falls to overstretched law enforcement officers.

In mixed-use zones there are few restrictions on a range of commercial, residential and industrial activities. Amenity zoning, which used to emphasise the importance of local socio-environmental contexts and actual community needs has been replaced with a new "community zone". The City Manager only has to advertise departures if in his opinion it will adversely affect anyone.

Contentious though they are for visual and health reasons, cellphone masts are allowed almost anywhere.

Group housing allows three storeys (up to 15m) and as many as 35 dwellings per hectare.
There are very few restrictions on what guesthouses may include.

Mining, is only a consent-use application away in agricultural and rural-zoned areas.

Also "as of " are the rights of any single residential property owner to have bed and breakfast accommodation for up to six guests or to run a childcare facility.

Traffic is possibly the least seriously considered impact of the plan. Already much of the city experiences periodic gridlock, which begs the question: is it responsible for city planners and executive committee to be advocating the new plan without a credible transport strategy? Reassurances that denser communities will facilitate improvements are not backed up by specific strategies and budgets.

The ongoing pressure to rezone some of the most productive parts of the agricultural areas of Philippi is an indication that the basic need of local food supply is by no means being seen as sacrosanct.

Regarding education, judging by reports of over-full schools, the establishment of "illegal" private or community schools and general overcrowding, it would seem that the current pattern is unsustainable. How will further densification and increased population demands affect an already precarious situation?

To what extent are constitutional obligations with regard to our rights to a healthy environment, health care, food, water, social security and education being complied with?

Combined with the recently approved spatial development framework (SDSF) and district plans that show receptivity to developer ambitions, the new zoning greatly promotes development.
Inevitably these lead to environmental impacts. The city however has opted not to examine this via a proper Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) as required in legislation. Problems like solid waste, sewerage, carbon emissions, air, water and coastal pollution, habitat fragmentation, mining, loss of wildlife and illegal exploitation of natural resources will escalate.

City planners alerted to these concerns have generally shown indifference.

The absence of detail and definition in parts of the scheme is disturbing. There is little about the problematic issue of subdivision; no absolute minimum erf size has been set; there are new mixed-use zones that allow for a diversity of activities that might not always be appropriate.

Property side and back boundaries going down to nought metres, allow for much more building coverage with the attendant neighbour issues of light blocking, noise and disturbance.

One must be mindful of the contentious departures and waivers that have been applied for and granted even before the new zone scheme.

No doubt there will be ambitions to try for further rights with the spirit of the new planning documents implicitly supporting these.

Coupled with the proposed new Land Use Planning Act (Lupa) - which all but does away with meaningful public participation - the new zoning scheme could indeed see serious erosion of democratic governance and accountability.

We have serious misgivings about the city's abilities to match the demands of a healthy, sustainable city within the parameters of the zoning scheme.

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