Harare City Council has reduced building plan approval fees and related charges, a move that is expected to promote infrastructure development in Zimbabwe's capital city.
The fee reduction comes after an outcry last year when the council significantly increased fees, charging in United States dollars. For example, architect fees for a main house in high-density areas jumped to US$343 in June 2022, up from previous levels.
According to the city's Town Clerk Hosiah Chisango, the new lowered fees are aimed at encouraging residents to follow proper procedures when developing properties. This ensures infrastructure meets council regulations and standards.
"City of Harare would like to advise its residents that building plan approval fees and related charges have been reduced to levels specified in November 2022: Schedule 25A of Fees and Charges [Building Inspectorate]," Chisango said in a statement this week.
Under the new schedule, fees for the main house in low-density areas have been set at US$150. This is down from US$343 previously. For a single-storey house in low-density suburbs, fees are now US$200 compared to US$505 before.
Commercial properties have also seen a significant decrease. A commercial single-storey building which was US$773 for approval will now only cost US$250.
The reduction has been welcomed by residents groups in Harare like the Harare Residents Trust. The Trust's director, Precious Shumba, said affordable fees are important to follow regulations.
"When a service is unaffordable, it discourages people from following the regulations and standards. Where there is order, the council can easily control and monitor all infrastructural developments," Shumba explained.
Marvelous Khumalo, chairperson of the Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum, holds a similar view. He said lower fees will motivate developers to get city approval.
"This might reduce the number of properties built without city approval, thereby improving standards and revenue for the city council," Khumalo pointed out.
The problem of illegal structures has been prevalent in Harare for years. Residents and developers opt to skip the bureaucratic process of council approval. Instead, they build informal homes and buildings without permission.
For property buyers and investors, this poses risks. There is no guarantee infrastructure like sewerage, electricity and water have been adequately planned and implemented. The structures may also not be fully compliant with zoning and size regulations.
By making approval more affordable, the City Council aims to incentivize legal development. The benefits are multifold. The council itself will receive more revenue from fees. And the city can better plan and service newly developed areas.
Building plan approvals in Harare allow the council to:
- Review zoning and size regulations are met
- Assess if sewer, water, road access is adequate
- Check structural integrity and safety
- Issue compliance certificates upon completion
The approval process ensures properties are constructed to proper standards. This avoids issues down the line such as:
- Flooding due to lack of storm drains
- Sewer blockages and leaks
- Poor road access
- Load bearing and other structural defects
For home buyers and property investors, purchasing a property with plan approval gives confidence it meets regulations. There is also recourse if the developer has not built to the agreed plans.
However, the council faces challenges processing and approving plans promptly. A backlog remains despite the lower fees aimed at encouraging applications.
In the past, it could take months to get approval. The process involves multiple lengthy steps including getting stamped architectural plans, engineering approvals, zone permits and more.
Harare City Council will need to streamline processes and reduce red tape for the lower fees to have the desired outcome. Or approvals could still take months even at lower cost.
Some steps the council could take include:
- Simplify application forms and requirements
- Move more of the process online for faster processing
- Increase staff and improve technology for approvals
- Set and meet timelines for approval at each stage
The cost of building plan approval is just one consideration for property developers and home builders. Time is also critical. Lengthy delays can make projects untenable, even if fees are lower.