In 2007, Cape Town began the first stages of drafting a programme to transform the Central City into a premier, world-class business destination: one that would encourage tourism, employment opportunities, investment growth; and be known as a regional capital of knowledge and quality innovation.

The Central City Development Strategy consisted of three phases that:

  • redesigned geographical zoning
  • incorporated sustainability measures
  • introduced new infrastructural capacity, the most prominent of which included the Integrated Rapid Transport (IRT) network and upgrades to public spaces used for trading.

Keeping with its mandate of economic development, the City of Cape Town subsequently rolled out a new integrated zoning scheme (CTZS), which took effect on 1 March 2013. The scheme replaces the previous 27 sets of zoning regulations that applied in the former municipal jurisdictions that today make up the City; and is, first, a recognition of the competitive inefficiencies for business of apartheid-era urban planning, much of which has remained unchanged (illustrated by the fact that the least well-off often reside furthest from the Cape’s economic hubs and thus face long commutes). The new homogenous standards and simplified rules for land and property use are intended to cut red tape and reduce compliance costs – for property developers and owners, in addition to the ease and clarity brought about, the encouragement of densification will be of interest.

Provisions simplifying property redevelopment and extensions include an increase for building coverage from 50 to 60%; the permitted building area as a proportion of land size from 0.4 to 1; and the permission of additional floors beyond three storeys. The facilitation of integrated development is reflected in new business zonings such as Mixed Use and Local Business. The first combines business, light industrial, and residential space; while the latter, catering especially for retail enterprise, provides a smooth transition between General Business and residential areas.

Concerns about the zoning scheme

These have centred on three issues:

  1. The unsuitability of uniform zoning rules for a city as diverse as Cape Town
  2. The intended densification becoming cramped urbanisation
  3. The seemingly haphazard design of zones, such as mixed-use which could see industrial activity and its associated problems of noise, waste and pollution take place next to residential properties.

A key point of contention is that no minimum erf size has been set. This means property development, although maximising rental returns and speculative subdivision, can potentially exceed an area’s carrying capacity, with ensuing problems in traffic flow, supply logistics, space, and aesthetic appeal. A potential result of this, ironically, would be a downward effect on property values. Charges of incomplete environmental impact assessments have also been levelled against the new zoning scheme: City planners have yet to address these, along with the concern that Cape Town’s business and civil development might not be well-served by uniform zoning rules.

For those looking to enter the commercial space market, as an investment or for business premises, the current CTZS does offer greater flexibility. It may, however, be beneficial to keep an eye on zoning regulation developments as the City, residents, developers and industry collaborate in drafting new policies.