Strike threat to Howick project

2010-04-05 00:00

STRIKE action in the office of KwaZulu-Natal’s Surveyor-General since October 2009 is severely jeopardising current and future economic development in the province and could very soon lead to hundreds of job losses.

This is according to papers filed in the high court in Pietermaritzburg by Howick Retirement Villages Pty (Ltd).

The company brought an application against the KZN Surveyor-General’s office and the minister for Rural Development and Land Reform (whose department is involved in the labour dispute) in order to force the provincial office of the Surveyor-General to meet deadlines for the approval of sectional title plans.

In terms of an order obtained by consent, the court has ordered the Surveyor-General to cause the sectional title extension plans for phase 40 of the lucrative Amber Valley retirement development in Howick to be approved “or otherwise dealt with” by close of business on April 15.

In terms of the order, the plans for phase 41 of the development are to be similarly approved or disposed of by April 30.

According to affidavits by a director of Howick Retirement Villages (HRV), Robert Taylor, and local conveyancer Gavin McLachlan, the approval process can take 80 to 90 days (four to five months) or longer instead of the customary 20 or so days because of the industrial action, which has taken the form of a “go slow” in the Surveyor-General’s office.

In the past an unusually long delay would be around 30 days.

Taylor said HRV, which has been involved in development in KZN for years, has now taken a decision to move its operations elsewhere once it has completed its present projects.

“This decision has been occasioned by the … inability of the first respondent [the Surveyor-General’s office] to perform its functions within a reasonable time, which is affecting the economic viability of the applicant,” he said.

Taylor said the many sub-contractors and hundreds of workers would soon have to be retrenched if the situation was not resolved.

McLachlan said the situation in KZN is “unparalleled in our history and its economic effects are enormous”.

He said that while one might sympathise with the plight of those who embarked on the industrial action, it is unacceptable that they can hold the entire province’s development to ransom.

This is especially so since the rest of the country is operating “more or less normally”, even though all the Surveyor-General’s offices have salary grievances, McLachlan said.

He said HRV has already decided not to do further work in KZN and is looking at projects in the Cape instead.

“The result is that future employment and general development are being stifled. I am sure that this is the case generally for other developers,” he said.

McLachlan said it is likely developers will simply not consider any new developments in the province and will begin to cancel others as they cannot afford to carry the huge costs.

Taylor explained that at Amber Valley, HRV sells the units to retired people and uses the cash flow from registered transactions to fund the building of further units in the monthly extensions of the plan.

It has to plan and work several months in advance and cash flow is “absolutely critical”, he said.

Buyers generally pay in cash and must have paid in full a month before taking occupation.

Lack of approval of the sectional title plans at Amber Valley means there are 39 houses waiting for registration, and conveyancers are — in terms of the Alienation of Land Act — prohibited from paying any part of the R24 million or so they currently hold for those transfers to HRV until the transfers are registered.

The company’s financial arrears is therefore growing monthly, he said.

• According to a report by Thami Magubane in The Witness in February, the concerns of land surveyors involved in the go-slow relate to wage disparities in their department.

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