Law firm Sandenbergh Nel Haggard (SNH) – which cried bias when its land use application to operate in Durbanville near Cape Town failed – has been ordered to pay the city’s legal costs, as the Western Cape High Court found the municipality was well within its rights to reject the application.

The matter ended up in the High Court this week after special leave from the SCA, involving the city’s Appeal Authority and Municipal Tribunal, SNH and property owner Sterea.

A Cape Argus report says Sterea purchased the residential property in Durbanville in February 2019, with SNH identified as the prospective tenant with intentions to operate its attorney firm from there.

The property had previously been used as a small special needs school – a move the court found had influenced the city’s future land use applications for the area.

Director at SNH, Leon Sandenbergh, had also represented Sterea during the application for rezoning.

Early in its application, Sterea was advised by the city’s Spatial Planning Office that it would not support the application, because the spatial planners were concerned that allowing the rezoning in a residential neighbourhood would be an example of so-called ‘business creep’, which was considered undesirable.

However, Sterea went ahead with the application, which in turn, failed before the city.

During an initial review of the city’s decision, the Western Cape High Court ruled in favour of SNH, setting aside the decisions taken by the city.

But the Cape Argus report notes on appeal this week, it upheld the city’s arguments.

‘In the founding affidavit, Mr Sandenbergh himself complained extensively about how the use of the property by the school (and related businesses) caused havoc in the neighbourhood. In these circumstances, it is unsurprising that the city might treat any future applications for a change in land use more cautiously and thoroughly, particularly where a rezoning is final (until a further such application is successful) whereas the consent use in question, having been granted provisionally for two years on fixed conditions, was not. That on its own does not automatically translate into bias,’ the court found.

Full Cape Argus report