Building plans 'clearing house' a big leap forward

The Johannesburg metro's introduction of its 'Metrolink' rapid processing centre for building plans is a major step in the drive to facilitate property development.

Other metros should emulate the system, which is claimed to provide clearances for building plans within three working days, says Gerhard Kotzé, CEO of the ERA South Africa property group.

"However it still falls short in that other parts of the development approval process, including critically important power and water services and re-zonings, are still handled separately, begging the question why all approval services cannot be co-coordinated under a single overarching department.

"The metros should use the current relative lull in the market to establish unified approval hubs before the next upturn of the market."

The aim, he says, should be cost-effective delivery of property stock, but a significant portion of the current high building cost inflation has to do with delays in the development approval process.

"These delays gives rise to 'holding costs', which impact on the pricing of residential products by developers and lead to a further deterioration in housing affordability."

Kotzé says areas that should be integrated into a streamlined approval process include legal processes, planning for bulk infrastructure and all application approvals in addition to building plan approvals as now centralised in the Johannesburg Metrolink service.

"Shortage of skills is obviously a major issue in this context, but Metrolink is reportedly manned by additional staff, proving that the skills can be found or at least trained, if the will is there.

"Meanwhile on a broader front there is a need for clear guidelines on all approval issues, standardisation of approval criteria across the provinces, greater delegation of approval powers rather than the current highly centralised controls, and probably most important of all, improved engineering services capacity."
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