Council, developers at fault for housing mess

standsIt seems incredible that hundreds of houses can be built across a swathe of suburbs without Harare City Council noticing that building plans had not been submitted for approval.

Yet houses have been built in Mount Pleasant Heights, an extension of Pomona, Gletwyn, southern Prospect, Belvedere West and south Ashdown Park without such approval, although the land itself was correctly subdivided, connected to the city water system and in some cases to the sewer network. The problem is just the building plans, unlike houses in the southwest of the city that were built on servitudes and similar land that was reserved for zero development.

It is highly unlikely that any of the affected houses will not meet the standards required, basically those set down in the Model Building By-laws, and unlikely that any will fail the required inspections.

But the owners are now all in the difficult position of having to obtain detailed plans, submitting these, waiting for the normal process of approval, ensuring the required inspections take place and then having to pay the fee, one percent of the building costs.

It seems fairly obvious that the developers of these new suburbs, or extensions of existing suburbs, did not bother to go through the required process, and so there might be further legal problems.

We assume the hundreds of affected homeowners would have assumed that all regulatory steps had been met when they started paying for their homes.

The need for the approval and inspection process is obvious. It prevents dangerous buildings being constructed.

The Model Building By-laws allow a wide variety of materials and techniques, but also demand that with some materials and techniques calculations by an approved engineer are performed, and in other cases, where calculations are not required, that the laid down materials and techniques have been used.

People now having houses built in schemes will obviously check that their developer has gone through the required processes.

Those who buy a plot and hire an architect and builder themselves are almost always led through the process by professionals and so do not have to worry.

But we still think the council has taken far too long to notice that some developers did not go through the process.

Everything would have been a lot easier for everyone, including the council, if deficiencies had been noticed from the very beginning, such as when the first water connection was applied for.

It should not be difficult for different units of the city council to pass on information to each other.

In any case we think the council, following the problems in the south-west of the city with bogus cooperatives and now the missing processes in this swathe of low-density schemes, should figure out ways of obtaining early warnings of unapproved development. This could be as basic as municipal workers seeing building operations, and especially seeing a number of them on a new tract, simply making a straight forward report at their headquarters.

A simple check when these were passed along would quickly find unauthorised development and allow remedial action to be taken immediately, long before a complex legal mess had arisen and long before large sums of money had been spent by homeowners. It is much easier to put things right before they have gone very far wrong.

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