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Approvals precipitated

Plan your way around costly delays

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Approvals precipitated

Plan your way around costly delays

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3 min read

Planning challenges are common for developers, but there are still things that the industry can do to ensure that approvals are attained more swiftly.

Here we unpack whether all regulations are equally important, and ask what guidance is available for those chomping at the bit to get their developments up and running.

Waking-hour nightmares

A chat with seasoned developers reveals a treasure trove – or a Pandora’s box – of accounts around the costly and energy-draining experiences related to delays in procuring approval of plans.

Whether these are exaggerated, and to what extent, is less of an issue than the reality of perceived red tape or miscommunications that may exacerbate the minefield (viz: zoning, subdivision, heritage status) to be navigated on the road to developers’ success.

No weak links

Directing the board of an eco-estate on prime Garden Route beachfront – some of the last of its ilk available on the southern Cape coastline – Gerhard van Huyssteen explains that the development has been a work in progress for the past two decades.

‘It requires constant communication with professionals like local government agents, environmental consultants, legal and financial service providers, contracted architects and builders.

‘Important from the outset was to accumulate a competent team on all levels of involvement, from fellow board and homeowners association members to Bitou municipal officials and the local construction fraternity,’ he says.

Joint model

The Public Land Development Research Programme ( is a major research stream initiated by the University of Cape Town’s Urban Real Estate Research Unit (URERU).The URERU and Western Cape Property

Development Forum have jointly produced a Property Development Process Model for Cape Town to assist in highlighting the exceptionally long development timeframes and resultant costs for all property development stakeholders, and to identify opportunities to reduce time and cost by consensus.


Conceptualised in 2014 by project management firms MDA and Alwyn Laubscher & Associates, the model graphically identified the experience of protracted development timeframes.

In 2017, and as a result of the impact that the long development process was having on housing affordability, URERU’s Rob McGaffin further developed the model. Costings were incorporated to highlight time-related financial implications, with further input from industry professionals and officials.


‘National legislation impacts all developments, no matter where you are, particularly environmental, heritage and spatial planning,’ McGaffin explains. ‘South Africa’s Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) creates a framework for each municipality to introduce unique bylaws. Variations in legislation are based on these bylaws.’

He says it gets complicated when one considers that different municipalities require different amounts and types of data. Cape Town, for instance, needs reams of info, which for many a developer represents the biggest timing challenge.

‘Other factors responsible for extensive delays include incomplete applications, because some of the required information may not yet be set in stone. It’s difficult to complete an application without these specs, some of which won’t be confirmed before the application is completed.’

Triple check, don’t object

Building plans are best negotiated with the help of checklists pertaining to required information. When certain boxes aren’t ticked, it becomes a to-and-fro frustration.

Other factors responsible for extensive delays include incomplete applications, because some of the required information may not yet be set in stone.

‘You fix one issue, then further down the checklist there’s another snag, so all the problems aren’t identified upfront. The golden rule is to try submitting an application that is as complete as humanly possible,’ McGaffin advises.

A primary cause of many delays involves objections received from Interested and Affected Parties (I&Aps). When no objections are recorded, delegated officials have the power to make decisions without additional interference, and approval becomes a much more streamlined process, according to McGaffin.

The flipside is a lot more complicated. ‘As a developer, if you can get community support upfront and avoid objections occurring, you’re halfway there,’ he says.

Right of way

Building plan approval won’t materialise without the correct land-use rights, e.g. residential, commercial or farming. A pertinent question to ask is whether many other developers have tried getting their hands on the site already.

If unsuccessful, what was the reason? This background information may hugely facilitate your building plan submission process.

‘If your site already has land-use rights, all you have to do is submit the building plan. But when a rezoning process is initiated, you may be in for a long ride.’

Last but by far not least, McGaffin strongly recommends connecting with your local planning office. ‘Pre-application consultations get a lot of issues out of the way, with a supportive official highlighting what they will be looking out for. It’s hit and miss in some cases, but when it works, helpful officials are worth their weight in gold.’

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