Pardon Gotora, Urban Scape
Should we perpetually change land use on approved master plans? On October 22, 2019, The Herald reported that “Southerton residents have approached the High Court seeking an urgent interdict to stop the development of residential stands in a recreational park in Bexley Circle”.

The argument by the applicants, which, in my view was their strongest foot, was that changing the land use of the area was an infringement on their rights and that of their children who use the playground.

As an interested party in the urban space, I followed the proceedings from a distance with great zest and kept my eye on the ball. The sole purpose was to draw lessons from the finalisation of the case and also to gauge if residents have a voice which can be heard, regardless of gender, class, creed or race.

Time elapsed, the judiciary system was taking its course. On Tuesday May 19, 2020, The Herald carried a story entitled “Bid to convert recreational park into stands hits snag”.

It took the judiciary to block City of Harare from parcelling out stands in a recreational park in Southerton.

In other words, the public good that was benefiting the whole of Southerton Community and beyond was intended to benefit only a handful.

People need shelter, but they also need social amenities. The playground is unequivocally a necessary social amenity.

It is prudent to note that change of reservation is not peculiar to Harare. All local authorities do apply for change of reservation to the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works (hereinafter referred to as the Minister) who administers the Regional Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29:12), (hereinafter referred to as the Act).

The Act provides for change of reservation on a local plan, an approved master or layout plan.

It states that the local planning authority shall keep under constant examination and review the factors which affect or are likely to affect the planning area. In the event that, as a result of such examination or review, the assumptions upon which the master plan or local plan are based are found to be no longer valid, the authority shall consider appropriate proposals for the alteration, repeal or replacement of such plan.

Thus, in the event that there is need, the local planning authority drafts a proposal for the alteration, repeal or replacement of a master plan and sends copy of that draft, appended with a report on the study carried out in terms of section 13 of the Act, to the Minister for approval.

The minister may, approve the proposal, if in his opinion, the proposed alteration would not adversely affect the interests or rights of a substantial number of people.

So it is the extent of the negative effects and the quantum that matter for the minister to make a determination.

However, the same Act demands that in formulating the contents of a local plan, the local planning authority shall take such steps as will, in its opinion, ensure that there is adequate consultation in connection with the matters proposed to be included in the local plan.

Community and/or stakeholder engagement becomes fundamental in this instance. This is the stage preceding what the Act refers to as “Consideration of objections and determination of local plan”.

In so doing, the local planning authority is expected to consider any objection to, or representation in connection with, a draft local plan made.

This is how it works, when the local planning authority drafts a proposal for change of reservation or plan alteration, they place on public exhibition for two months a copy of the draft local plan with a statement indicating the time within which objections to, or representations in connection with, the draft local plan may be made to that authority.

They also give public notice of the place or places at which, and the period for which, the draft local plan will be exhibited and the time within which objections to, or representations in connection with, the draft local plan may be made to that authority.

Public notice entails placing an advertisement in a local newspaper. Without considerations of the period of when the Act was enacted, there are so many far-fetched assumptions, (i) that all stakeholders have access to a newspaper, (ii) that all stakeholders will obviously visit the council offices during the currency of the notice and take a glance at the notice board, (iii) that all stakeholders are literate and are conversant with English language, (iv) that it ignored use technology to settle bills without visiting council offices.

The list is endless.
Councils are even wiser when it comes to matters of expediency, they place very tinny advertisements in the least read editions. The general public perception is that, Thursdays and Sundays’ papers are known for advertisements, particularly jobs, so readership is allegedly higher.

So some local authorities with nuanced motives evade advertising change of use in these editions. As a result, few objections or representations are received.

However, it does not follow that every change of reservation is “evil”. But institutional stands, wetlands, buffer zones, recreational facilities such as play grounds and parks have been decimated in this manner.

Chitungwiza provides a typical example, children are forced to dice with death and bruises to their toes kicking the tar mark, nurturing their talents on the pothole-riddled streets while dodging cars.

A moratorium from the minister banning any pending change of reservations is germane.
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