Anger over illegal digs

2016-07-18 14:46
The red-brick road around the City Hall.

The red-brick road around the City Hall. (Jonathan Burton)

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Pietermaritzburg - Before you begin drafting a new policy on rowdy students and illegal student digs in the Scottsville and Pelham areas, begin by enforcing the existing policy properly.

That was the message from scores of fed-up residents to Msunduzi Municipality at a public meeting on the controversial digs issue at the weekend.

Although the drafting of a new policy could be a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel for Scottsville and Pelham residents, that did not soften the blows aimed at Msunduzi from infuriated residents voicing their concerns at a public consultation session on Saturday.

About 100 residents, speaking at a policy review workshop hosted by the municipality at the Winston Churchill Hall, did not pull any punches in describing the anguish of living beside student digs, boarding houses and illegal bed and breakfast (B&B) establishments.

The residents lambasted the municipality and various Pietermaritzburg tertiary institutions for not doing more to alleviate their plight.

At the meeting, town planner Atkins Khoali said they had consulted with a team of experts as part of the Isikhungusethu (Where we are located) Project Team, which is preparing a policy to manage student digs in the Wards 33 and 36 areas.

Project manager Martin de Lange told residents the team was appointed by the municipality as a service provider to identify hotspots, review existing policies and establish solutions to create a suitable environment for all who live in the area.

Saturday’s meeting served as the first round of public consultations before a draft policy can be constructed.

The draft policy, according to team facilitator Pat Luckin, would seek to bridge the gap between the city’s “outdated” town planning scheme and current boarding house policies issued last year.

However, only 10 minutes into their presentation, De Lange and his team were bombarded with a wave of interjections by frustrated residents, eventually prompting them to skip through their entire agenda and listen only to the residents’ concerns.

With tempers flaring, fingers pointing and voices growing louder and louder, the residents said they could not be bothered with any changes to policy if the policies already in place were not regulated by the municipality and other stakeholders.

“If the municipality is not willing to monitor and regulate student accommodation and B&Bs, then there is no use in making any changes because they will not implement the new policy in the future either,” one resident said.

Residents said the influx of “noisy” students, who are being housed illegally without conforming to by-laws, was also contributing to crime.

The residents called for the shutting down of all illegal boarding houses, close monitoring of all legal facilities, and better responses from the municipality to objections to property rezoning by potential landlords.

Speaking to The Witness at the meeting, Ward 33 councillor Naleni Atwaru said residents felt the municipality had “let them down”.

Atwaru said she and Ward 36 councillor Vic Winterbach had submitted a petition with over 200 signatures, asking for an interim moratorium to be placed on the granting of special consent and rezoning applications for student accommodation.

It is believed the draft policy would be ready later this year.


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