Fine for UCT building breach a ‘slap on wrist’

Ward 57 councillor Paddy Chapple and the Rosebank and Mowbray Civic Association have slammed a City proposal to fine UCT R22 000 for violating a municipal planning by-law, calling it a “slap on the wrist” that will not stop developers flouting the law.

This comes after MLH Architects & Planners brought an application on behalf of UCT to the City’s Municipal Planning Tribunal. The university was found to have made illegal changes to student accommodation at the corner of Main Road and Woolsack Drive in Rondebosch.

A report submitted to the tribunal by the City’s section head for land use management, Pierre Hoffa, and southern district manager Ossie Gonsalves, said UCT had converted former garages at the building into a storeroom and communal space without authorisation.

On June 17 last year, UCT sought a departure to allow the existing building to exceed the street building line to provide more parking. This application was incomplete and UCT asked MLH Architects for help with it. But unbeknown to them, work had already started on the site, and, by the end of October last year, it had been completed.

“UCT did not foresee the various heritage and land-use, management-related delays that emerged.

“As the alterations were largely internal and due to major time pressure they were under, having already given the go-ahead to contractors, they could not postpone the alterations,” the report states.

“The social space that was created only serves existing students that reside in the block of flats and UCT has derived no monetary benefits from these alterations and no additional student accommodation was created.”

MLH submitted that the value of the unauthorised building work was R220 248, but the administrative penalty for building work contravention may be between 0 percent and 100 percent of the value of the work carried out.

The report from Mr Hoffa and Mr Gonsalves recommended to the tribunal that UCT be penalised 10 percent of this amount, or R22 024.

“The nature of the contravention is low key, but the gravity is relatively serious for an organisation such as UCT.

“UCT is involved in many building projects and is well aware of the need for both planning approval and building plan approval prior to commencing building work.

“They proceeded with the building work despite not having the necessary approvals,” the report states.

The matter was heard for a final decision earlier this week, although the results are yet to be known.

Mr Chapple believes the fine is not be enough to deter developers from transgressing municipal by-laws in the future.

“Developers will laugh at that amount,” he said.

“This is nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Unfortunately, this could set a precedent for developers who will think nothing of bulldozing buildings or building where they want and then paying a small fee.”

Jonathan Hobday, chairman of the Rosebank and Mowbray Civic Association, agreed that the fine was a “slap on the wrist”.

“We are under assault in terms of the ethos being carried out because of the rush to provide student accommodation,” he said.

“It is not only UCT which is transgressing, but it appears many developers are riding roughshod over building regulations. And it is apparent the council is not sufficiently sensitive to the needs of the residents. This proposed fine does not send a message to developers that they will be punished if they transgress.”

He said residents were not against the development of student accommodation, but would like to feel that the City was also on their side.

“Whether it is parking that is being converted or building restrictions ignored, it is gross insensitivity being shown. This is a blatant offence to us.”

Johan van der Merwe, Mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said based on the decision-making criteria prescribed in the relevant legislation, the administration’s report set out the relevant facts in “a balanced and objective manner”.

“While the matter was decided yesterday (Tuesday September 14), the administration is yet to receive minutes reflecting reasons for the tribunal’s decision. The minutes are typically available around two weeks after a meeting,” he said.

“It is noted that UCT is not a commercial property developer. In the context of multi-million rand commercial property developments, a R220 000 refurbishment project is of a very small scale and the recommended fine reflects this.

The recommendation would in real terms have been of a different value had it been a multi-million rand construction contravention.”

He said it should further be noted that a repeat or continuing offence was usually considered an aggravating factor.

“Once formally communicated to the applicant, the tribunal’s decision would be subject to an appeal right. The decision is therefore not yet final.”

UCT spokesman Elijah Moholola said the university had not yet been notified of the outcome of the hearing by the tribunal.

“The space in question was hastily prepared because of students’ pressing need at that time. Although it was urgent, the municipality was notified and plans were submitted,” he said.

“The approval was delayed after the municipality requested a land-use management application, and, although this was done, construction was completed before the plans were approved. UCT respects the outcome and, once it is formally communicated, would accept the fine.”