Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Water Crisis in the Western Cape

It’s the big thing at the moment. Many of us are bragging about our water saving measures, whilst some segments of the population – it seems at both extremes of the wealth spread - are blithely ignoring it.
Reality check.
We started the last summer season after a poor winter rainfall with limited supplies of water.
We haven’t had substantially good rainfall since 2013.
In July 2014 we had 96 % full dams,
in July 2015, 54 % 
and in July 2016 – 43%      -  this is the level that has landed us where we are today.


Theewaterskloot July 2017  Pic Lesley Clarke

 July 2017,  -  26 % from a low point about the end of May of about 18%.  That's 17% less than this time last year. The forecasts are, that we will receive less than average rainfall over the rest of the winter period.
Best guesses are that we may end the winter with dam levels of 35 – 40 % - this is not enough to see us through a summer.
So we have gone from bad to worse, if you think our current situation is inconvenient, watch out 2018!
The possibility really exists, with a long hot dry season coming, and the tourist influx during December to Feb, that we will run out of water during the summer. 
Being referred to now as      "Day 0"
Water shedding in the meantime is a possibility, but the impact on our aging infrastructure has to be taken into account. Water shedding, in the same way as we did electricity recently, and then restoring supply regularly,  will probably cause more pressure bursts in the water pipes, which will cost more water than it saves.
 We as individuals, whether it is fair or not, need to be making a plan to store rainwater for our personal use in the event that the worst comes to the worst.
Running out to pick n pay and stocking up on bottled water is not the answer. Those plastic bottles use more water in their manufacture than they contain . Also, thinking 5 L at a time is not enough, we need to be thinking in the thousands of litres.
We need to be harvesting rainwater, getting an adequate filter system so that it can be rendered adequately potable, and making the most of the rainfall that we will get, to provide for lean times to come.
Personally. Picture is one of my barrels, and we have a wellpoint. So far we have suffered, in our area at least, minimal drop off in pressure or supply due to a falling water table. But at some stage this will happen. Obviously we are lucky living where we do. Our home is on fairly low ground, close to the water table, and not everyone will have access to this resource.
But, depressing as it is to watch our gardens wither and die, hard surfacing our plots is not the answer. The water table / aquifer relies on water falling and filtering through the ground.
World wide, we create more roads, more parking, and more people are hard surfacing their spaces. This results in less water being absorbed into the water table. An even bigger problem waiting to happen. Water run off then goes into the stormwater system where it dribbles into the sea – wasted.

Following is a link to a very good regular facebook post, on latest water levels as well as projected rainfall.
There is some very good advice in here about what you can and should be doing.
Control and click to access.
We are likely to see yet more stringent measures imposed by the City of Cape Town, and an announcement about extraordinary measures is expected shortly. I am guessing we will need to be targeting, not 100 L per person per day, or the current 87L pppd, but we need to get this down to 50. It can be done with a little money, a little organisation and a lot of thought.

The City is planning ways of adding useable water into the system, but in the time period, within the budget, it cannot be enough to take the pressure off.

What can you do ?
Harvest rainwater on the largest scale practical for your home and budget.
kitchen barrels actually 2 linked together, second hand from plastics for Africa

The life straw 2L capacity filter
Harvested rainwater can be used for all non potable use, garden, loo flushing etc, but even a simple filter can render this usable for cooking and kettle.
Left is water flushed from cleaning filter, centre is untreated rainwater, right has been filtered through the life straw.

Recycle water wherever possible, shower water, washing machine water, cold water runoff waiting for a tap to run hot, all can easily be collected and re used.
We personally haven’t got into greywater recycling yet, it strikes me as expensive for what you can gain given the fact that we never bath, limit shower use and reuse water directly wherever possible, before it goes down the drain.
We will be looking at investing in a more scientific filtering system that can render my well point water and pool water potable – that strikes me as being a good thing to do and provides access to a large amount of available water come " day 0 ".

With the rising cost of municipal water, investments like this will pay back in a relatively short period of time, whereafter you will be getting ahead, with an ingrained habit that will provide free water for may years to come.
Water security is something I am hearing about now.
No really !!
I am hearing of people stealing water from pools, wellpoints etc and actually selling it. A new criminal industry growing now.
Neighbourhood watches and street committees, let's be conscious of this and look out for bakkies with barrels being filled up outside our homes.

Most importantly, particularly given my field of work, if you are planning building projects, new homes or additions, think ahead about water use. Plan the position of downpipes to be in the most useful place a) to place a barrel and b) for ease of use of the water saved. Can it be next to a bathroom and plumbed in to directly supply at least a wc.

If you are fitting new plumbing, can you fit a rainwater barrel pump and filtration system that will allow you to use rainwater in the main supply to your house ??

Make sure your building contractor and every member of his team on site is aware of the issues. The amount of water that can be wasted during building operations needs to be addressed. Budgeting for an extra  rainwater barrel for the contractor to use in mixing mortar etc on site will be a small extra cost compared to the total you are spending. And you will have this for ever after.
Please share this widely, and let’s try and get everyone on board to save water, this current situation is one that is not going to go away any time soon.
The Plan Specialist
( Dave H Architectural Design )
July 2017

Thursday, August 25, 2016

revisions to Cape Town Zoning Scheme regulations, granny flats

" Granny Flats" - now simpler approval process

The City of Cape Town have recently published amendments to the Planning and Building Development bye law. This is the bye law that incorporates the zoning scheme, which stipulates the limitations on development of land.

There is a bunch of dry stuff in this revision to do with definitions and technical detail, but the stand out amendment for me,  is to do with requirements for a second dwelling  on a single residential plot.

A second dwelling is a self contained unit, often referred to as a granny flat, built on your single residential property.
In the past, this has always required a departure from the zoning scheme regulations, neighbour consents, and delays in the approval process,  as your ordinary home type plot is zoned single residential, ie for a single residence. ( Duh ! )

The amendment now allows a second dwelling, a self contained flatlet, on a single residential plot without departure approval, as long as it complies with all other requirements, building lines for instance, or a conventional building system.

In fact, the amendment also makes provision for a 3rd dwelling, but this is subject to you being in an area where there is a 3rd dwelling overlay zone, and this hasn't been written or specified yet. It is likely to be provided for in areas where the city wants to implement the densification policy, perhaps in built up areas with limited land available, we shall see.

This change allowing second dwellings as a matter of right, as mentioned, is subject to compliance with all other requirements.
It may be, that some areas which fall under master home owners associations, Parklands, Sunningdale, Big Bay etc, may have conditions of approval or rules which don't allow this, check with your HOA or Body Corporate to see what applies if you in an area such as this.

Lastly, as ever, the city's zoning scheme cannot over ride a title deed conditions. Some older properties may have a condition limiting use to a single dwelling, and to proceed with a second dwelling in this case would first require removal of the title deed condition - which can be a long and expensive process.

Overall good news for those who want to move Mom in with them, but still give a level of independence - don't have to hide it as a maids quarters anymore.

Having said that, a maids quarters of not more than 50 m2 can be classified as an outbuilding and, within certain limits, be allowed to be built over the site building lines. ( Common boundaries, not street - height limit 3.5m max)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Building Inspectors - more important than you might think

Had plans approved, building work done, so you are all legal and official ?
Maybe not !

A plan once approved is valid for a start within 1 year of the date of approval.
Still all good ? Probably, but, did you advise the building inspector when you started ?

The only way that council know that work has commenced is if you notified the building inspector. It's in the letter of approval that comes with the stamped plan, along with the building inspector notice forms.

If you do not notify the building inspector, it is possible that after 1 year the plan will lapse. Bingo. All of a sudden your building work is unauthorised.

Look, the BI's generally are reasonable people, and would probably try and get hold of you by phone to ask if this work was done, but if they can't get hold of you for whatever reason, the plan can lapse.

UPDATE - with the miracles of the city of cape towns electronic plans management system, it is now likely that your plan will " lapsed ": after the 12 month period BY THEIR COMPUTER, and not your friendly BI.

Doesn't matter what the work proposed is, the BI may not even come out to inspect your little covered patio, but he needs to be notified so he can close the file.

NB, you should also notify him on completion and ask for an " occupancy certificate"
Occupancy certificate is just their document description, applies equally to a new house or a little boundary wall.

Last thing is - if it has a roof, any excavation, or a foundation, it requires  a plan. Your louvre awning is a roof. A swimming pool has lots of rules and needs an approved plan. Your little thatched gazebo - fire regulations. Boundary walls, - the City has a walling policy that needs to be complied with.

Get the plan drawn and approved before starting work, and call the Building Inspector when you do.

Due to the wonders of the interweb, these posts crop up all over the world, be aware that we practice in the City of Cape Town in South Africa, and the information shared relates to out experience of the local requirements. Wherever in the world you are, check with your local authority, or a locally experienced architectural professional.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Get your plans approved BEFORE you build !!!

Duh !
Seems obvious doesn't it, but you would be surprised how many structures are built without approved plans.
One step further, if you make changes during construction, make sure an amended plan is approved.

I visited a clients home today, they have sold and it appeared that there where some issues with what had been built compared to what the approved plans show.

A 2 level home on a sloping plot, it's double storey to the street, but single storey at the back. Garaging, entrance and some staff quarters are on the lower level at the front, the main house on one level above. The plot slopes upward from the street to the rear.

A plan had been approved for additional garaging, quite large, at the lower level, and an additional living room above, with a large outdoor entertainment deck and pool.

What was built was two living rooms on the upper floor, extending  much further into the deck, with a smaller entertainment deck - more a balcony. The roof had been extended right over the balcony where before the entertainment deck was not roofed.

This was built ten years ago, and in that time, the national building regulations have been re written, a new regulation dealing with energy efficiency and insulation has been introduced, and the local authority has updated its zoning scheme regulations changing all the building line parameters.

A building line is an imaginary line, inset a certain distance inside the plot boundaries, over which you shouldn't build. In Cape Town, this varies according to the plot size.

In order to submit a plan to correct this now, the plan must comply with the regulations in place now.

The building line setback from the boundaries has increased in the new zoning scheme, so the structure as built is over the building line. To make things worse, historic building line restrictions are entrenched in the title deed, it's quite an old property, and the structure is in fact over these as well. So both a departure from the zoning scheme will be required to be approved, as well as a waiver of the title deed restriction.
Both of these will require consent of neighbours in a 360 degree circle around the house, approval of the variance, and can take 2 - 3 months in the process at least.
As in anything which requires permission to depart from a regulation, it is implied that this can be declined, otherwise, what's the point of the regulation!

UPDATE. The city's current interpretation of the title deed conditions, is that the wording does not allow,  in the Table View area at least, a simple waiver of the title deed condition. They are currently requiring the title deed condition to be removed. This is a process that can take a year and cost any where between R 100K and R 250K. Seriously inconvenient !

This has come up now because the owner has sold, and with good advice from his estate agent, a sensible purchaser wants to see confirmation the house as built is properly approved. The fact that it isn't could seriously delay registration of transfer or even cause the sale to fall through.

Furthermore, back in the day, the design principle was, more glass more light!  But in this day and age, the energy efficiency regulations recognise that glass is a lousy insulator and the maximum area of glazing is restricted relative to the floor area of the space. It very often happens that something designed and built ten years ago, would not now comply with the current regulations.

With the original approved plan, would have been an engineer design for the concrete deck between the garage below and the structure above. This would have taken into consideration the position of the walls above and been reinforced to take the weight of the structure at that point. But in this case, the walls, and roof structure above are in different places. You would hope that the engineer was advised and his design amended, but there is nothing visible to show that this is so.

This work was done for / by a previous owner. The current owner bought the house like this, but didn't check the approved plans when he bought. However, the current registered owner is held to be responsible for this by the local authority.

To make matters worse, we have to declare that this is an unauthorised, as built structure. The first thing a council planner does is check the aerial view of the site, and it is quite clear that the work we are now submitting plans for is already there. Council, in this case is fully entitled to levy a fine for unauthorised building work, a % of the value of the work ( at current rates ).

The message is. that either building without plans, or winging changes and variations on site, can have dire consequences. When you buy a home, make it a condition that the seller proves that all structures on the site are legally approved, so that, as in this case, it doesn't become your problem and responsibility. This includes boundary walls, pools, thatched gazebo's, covered patios. If it has a roof, or requires a foundation, it needs a plan !
If the pool guy says he will organise the plan, ask for a copy before they start digging the hole.

Last thing, when construction commences you should call the building inspector to check the setting out of the new work. You should also call him on completion to sign off and provide an " occupancy certificate. This states that he has checked and that this is complete as per the plan approved. He may ask to be called at other key points during construction, if that the case he will advise what he needs. Plumbing installation for instance might require an inspection. The inspector, on completion would require certificates of compliance from engineer, electrician, plumber, and in the case of the energy efficiency regulations very probably one from your architectural professional.


I could quote many examples of where unauthorised work has had serious consequences. I had one client, who decided that a nice vacation project - in 30 degree southern hemisphere Christmas conditions, in sandy soil, would be to sink a cellar behind his house. he got some labour in and managed to undermine the foundations of his house causing it to almost fall into the excavation. No plans - no engineer, and not much in the way of common sense !!

Proper plans first, properly designed, by a professional to see that they comply with all requirements practical and technical ! It can save you a fortune in the long run.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Effective 01 April 2014, the City of Cape Town are introducing a digital plans submission system.
Well it's now the 1st April - and - not an April fools joke, I submitted my first plans this morning. Following is my experience of the actual process at the Blaauwberg District plans office.

Per councils requirement, plans should be submitted prepped in landscape format, with a 150 a 100 clear box for stamping space, and saved preferably as PDF/E format, but PDF/A is acceptable. Documents should all be PDF/A.

PDF/A is a standard developed for the legal profession and provides for long term archiving.

All plans and doc's should be saved on a flash drive and handed in, for the time being, with a full paper backup set. Flash drive in an A5 envelope with an identifying label available from council stuck on the front. I included an index of what I had provided.
Hope this helps save you some time.

01 04 2014

I was first in at Blaauwberg this morning, with three building plans and one departure application to submit. All done and dusted and back in the office by 09.30 J


I took in all doc’s both on a flash drive, all saved as PDF/A and a full paper set, with an index listing the docs attached, again both on paper and on flash.

I scanned my plans as pdf/a at postnet to include on flashdrive with all the hoa stamps etc already on.

I scanned all the hand completed and signed forms at my desktop scanner as pdf’s and then saved to the flash drive via adobe acrobat as pdf/a. My scanner doesn’t scan direct to pdf/a .

I kept a copy of all of the application as saved on the flashdrive in a client directory in my pc. I intend to add to this whatever comes back from council including the approved plan and keep this file for ever. ( proper back up systems become ever more important) My directory therefore should be complete at the end of the day, I can clean up and reuse the flash.


Process was.

1.       To plans examiners counter.

Theo was sitting there taking in applications, as was Clifford, Derrick, Keith all wanting to see how it was going to go.

There is a registration form to complete,  fill in what you can on the blue side including the summary of scope of work at the bottom. ( and m2’s) this for s/fee calculation. 

A plans examiner will cast his eye over your plan for obvious errors and complete a tick sheet checklist. I didn’t have engineer appointment forms for some structural stuff, but was marked to follow.

Theo will record on the computer. Take out full application including the registration form and tick sheet, and :

2.       To Heritage, they examined and stamped the paper copy as usual

3.       To LUMS, again they examined and stamped the paper copy as usual


They are working on a clean plans submission system, you are only going to be able to go from one step to the next if the plan is clean.


4.       The town planner completed the green and yellow side of the registration form, and I took to bdm counter, who record the receipt of the application.

5.       They cannot at this point give scrutiny fees straight away, but this is apparently a system glitch and will be fixed shortly, so I brought my applications away pending receipt of an e mail for the fees, hopefully later today. I should then be able to pay by eft, or at pick n pay / checkers etc by card.

They kept the registration form and the tick sheet check list.

6.       Tomorrow then, I would drop in the pre checked applications with proof of payment at the express counter. But it’s a simple hand in, so may well just send Matthew J


The plan, re scrutiny fees, once the glitch is fixed, will be that they will be able to give you a fee invoice on the spot, and that there will be a pc available to make an eft payment in their office.


There was a guy I don’t know there who is apparently the DAMS expert from town, floating around helping as needed.


The departure application was similar, first to Plans examiners cubbyhole who cast their eye over it, and note on the reg form that they cannot accept pending departure approval.

Heritage stamp, saves this step later, check over by town planner, fills in part of the yellow and green side of the registration form. Log in at the planning enquiry desk who record receipt, keep the registration form and tick sheet check list, e mail departure fee to follow and payment hand in as per the building plan. 

The system is obviously not up and running fully yet. They can’t yet stamp electronic copies digitally for instance and they only actually opened one of my flash drives out of four, just out of curiosity to see how I had set it up. Otherwise they didn’t look at any of the electronic documents.

But I am confident they will get there, a little bit of patience at this stage while everybody works out what’s happening and how the departments integrate, and in 3 months this will be easy . Whether it will make any difference to the time it takes to process applications is yet to be seen.

As far as I can see they will still be examining paper copies, stamping the approval and scanning the approved plan with the stamps ( heritage / lums / bdm ) onto your flash drive.
NB, I think that council – like us, are working this out as they go along, and as they encounter issues glitches and gremlins, they will probably tweak the process. Facilities that are not available yet will come on line, such as fee calculation/invoicing etc. and that will help.
Patience will be the key as we go forward. Effectively what is happening is they are integrating the systems – part paper / manual with digital being loaded back office from the paper provided,  and will work towards a full digital submission system, towards the middle / end of the year.
One step at a time at the moment, in 12 months time we will be wondering how we ever handled a submission any other way ! 
Last thing, the process described below is specifically Blaauwberg, the registration form for instance is I think an in house Blaauwberg thing. You will probably find variations between the submission centres, although hopefully they will at some stage talk to each other and adopt the best of the best for a standard method. ( Clifford / Janine ?? ) It’s always frustrating to think you have got something sussed, and then you rock up at South Pen or Somerset West and find they do it different and you are missing something – and have to go back tomorrow.


“Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose”  - it’s French - google it  J


There is nothing scary in this process. ( Yet )





Monday, September 23, 2013

City of Cape Town - boundary walls policy

The City of Cape Town has a policy restricting what you can do with new boundary walls at your home.

For side and rear boundaries, walls are limited to 2.1m high.

For street facing boundaries, the maximum height is 1.8m.

In addition, the City does not allow full height solid walls along the full length of street facing boundaries. At minimum 40% of the length of the street frontage must be " visually permeable"
This means either not walled or walled with something which is see through, gates or palisade fencing. If your driveway was open to the street or had a steel gate you could see through for instance, then this would count towards the 40% requirement.

It may be possible with a good motivation to appeal for a departure to allow a variation to this policy, but like everything that requires specific permissions, there is no guarantee of approval.

The Role of the Building Inspector


This may seem like skipping to the end before you read the first chapter, but the building inspectors are a vital cog in the building plan process.

A plan once approved is valid for a start within 12 months of date of approval, after which it expires and would need to be re submitted.  The only way that council knows that work has started, is if you call the building inspector. If this isn’t done, council will assume you haven’t started. In 12 months your plan expires, and hey presto the work which is complete is all of a sudden unauthorised.

Make sure your builder, pool contractor, thatched lapa or patio roof guy – contacts the building inspector  – often they don’t!  If you decide to build a brick braai in the garden over a weekend, you need a plan approved  and the BI involved.

If your contractor tells you this isn’t necessary, call council and check for yourself.

I talked to a client recently who wanted a roof over her patio, and the contractor was telling her he could start before the plan was approved. In her particular case, the structure would extend to a side boundary and require approval of a departure from the zoning scheme, and consent of neighbours. She also is in an area where plans have to be approved by the original developer, and they have very definite rules and requirements about the type of roof cover that could be built. A patio roof cover supported on an aluminium or steel structure has to be specified by an engineer, and this is required before plan approval. Support posts have to be centrally cast in foundations, and even the foundation below ground is not allowed to extend over a boundary.  Lots of things to be sure of before the building can start !

The building inspector should inspect at the trench and foundation stage. He will look to see that the setting out is correct, ie that it is being built as shown on the approved plan, and isn’t extending over any boundaries. He will want to see the foundations once the concrete is poured. He may call randomly during the building period to check progress. The final stage is to call him when the work is complete. He will check to see that it has been built as per the approved plan, and if all is okay he will issue an “ occupancy certificate” and close the file.

The building inspectors, certainly in the Blaauwberg region are practical and friendly individuals, and they are there to protect you. They will be looking to see that normal building practices are being applied,, and if used correctly can prevent a lot of future frustration.