Residents comment on by-law

The public will have less say on issues like cellphone masts,building height, temporary housing for disaster victims and suburban densification if the City pushes through proposed changes the Municipal Planning By-law which regulates developments and land use in Cape Town.

Mayco member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt said property owners should heed the proposed amendments as they could impact property rights, future developments and land uses.

Six information sessions were held across the City during a public-participation period from Friday March 1 to Monday April 1, the last in Parow, at the weekend.

Chris Rousseau of the Constantia Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association (CRRA) said responding to the City’s deadline of April 1 had not been easy.

“There are 20 categories of proposed amendments, each with many sub-sections and the documentation is very confusing,” said Mr Rousseau.

The CRRA has asked for clarity on rewording of some of the proposals so they can be understood by ordinary ratepayers.

Kristina Davidson, of Wynberg Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, said the City’s public participation process had been a farce.

“If they were serious about input from the public, they should hold more information meetings and allow more time for comments, especially given the fact that the by-law is written in legalese and is most definitely not user friendly or accessible to the layperson,” she said.

She said the Fish Hoek Valley Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association had taken a full month to compile a comprehensive response.

Mark Schäfer, of Bergvliet Meadowridge Ratepayers’ Association, had not had time to peruse the planned amendments and could not make submissions before the March 31 deadline.

Among notable amendments are those that make it easier for the City to build temporary emergency housing on land not zoned for it, for six months. The CRRA has asked for a maximum of 90 days only as per existing provisions.

Another proposed will allow owners to build third dwellings on properties zoned single residential without needing prior permission from the City.

The CRRA said while it agreed densification was necessary in places, a “one-size-fits-all” policy would not work across the entire metro- pole.

The proposed third-dwelling amendment should be scrapped altogether or modified to apply to appropriate areas – possibly by means of overlay zones, the association said.

Another proposed amendment will allow short-term letting from a house or flat, something the CRRA supports.

There’s also a proposal to change the way the City calculates the height of a property.

However, it is amendments relating to cell masts that have hit raw nerves in the Constantia valley.

The amended by-law will allow properties zoned “community use” – churches, schools, clinics and hospitals; “utilities”; “transport 1” and “transport 2”; “public open space”, and “agriculture” to install minor free-standing cell masts (of less than 12m in height) or minor rooftop masts (of less than 1.5m in height) as of right, that is without prior land-use approval from the City or adjacent land owners.

“Furthermore, a minor rooftop cell mast of less than 1.5m in height is allowed as a consent use for properties zoned as “single residential 1” and “single residential 2” as well as for properties zoned as “general residential 1 to 6”.

Tokai resident Derek Main, of the National Alliance Against Cell Masts (NAAC), said the proposed amendments to relax the rules for the cell industry should be opposed until there is more clarity on possible health risks.

Mr Main said the cell mast amendments made a mockery of public participation.

“To allow all the zones named in section seven of the proposal to erect cell masts as of right, flies in the face of public participation. This will take away residents’ rights to comment on or oppose unwanted development. Residents will not have their say in matters that directly and negatively affect them. Surely this is unconstitutional? Cell masts should never be allowed near particularly vulnerable people like children and the elderly. Schools and creches should be off limits,” said Mr Main.

The City’s Wilfred Solomon-Johannes said the amendments were intended to cut red tape. “Residents can apply online, a building control officer will be allocated to the case as well as a case officer to oversee the application. We can’t stop technology. We need to be aligned with the advent of 5G,” he said, referring to the latest generation of cellular mobile communications.

Wynberg activist Muna Lakhani said changes to the cell mast laws were being rushed through – without adequate public participation – to allow industry to in- stall 5G everywhere and immediately.

The 5G technology required lots of small, low masts all over the place, despite studies, he said, showing that 5G posed many possible dangers to both people and the planet.

Researcher and activist Denise Rowland said the City would be exposing the public to untested technology.

There was no “safe” way to implement wireless 5G as the safety studies were non-existent, she said.

“The City will be targeting the most vulnerable members in our society,” she said.

She quoted a study co-authored by president of Environmental Health Trust, Dr Devra Davis: “Children’s vision, brain and hearing could be permanently impaired by this untested radiation. Studies show children’s eyes absorb significant amounts of radiation and are more vulner- able because their eyes are still developing and the eyes contain few blood vessels, so they have no way to cool off. Early life insults could mean earlier vision de- cline.”

Justine Hansen of Electromagnetic Radiation South Africa (EMRSA) said she was opposed to a “deregulatory agenda in light of serious health and environmental concerns from the scientific community around 4G, 5G and other wireless technology”.

“And it is also of concern that the authorities are reliant on outdated guidelines and are not offering citizens pragmatic steps on how to reduce unnecessary exposure,” she said.

CRRA said it had made minor comments on the cell mast amendments because applications would still need to comply with the City’s telecommunication infrastructure policy.