Durban – The city is locked in a dispute with the owners of the Suncoast casino on Durban’s beachfront over its plans to increase the size of its gaming floor.

This emerged in an urgent application which came before Durban High Court Judge Themba Sishi earlier this month in which Tsogo Sun KwaZulu-Natal complained it could not take the city’s refusal of its plan on review to the high court.

This was because the law required that all internal appeal processes be exhausted beforehand and the National Building Regulations Review Board – which falls under the department of trade and industry – had still not heard its appeal, which had been lodged more than a year ago.

Tsogo Sun’s woes began early last year when it applied to the city to convert restaurant space into gaming and casino space.

The application was initially turned down because it did not include a “fire design” element. This was rectified but, at the end of February, the city again refused the application, this time citing the Integrated Development Plan drawn up in 2002 for the site, which only authorised 1 250 gaming positions.

In his affidavit before the court, Tsogo Sun’s director of legal services, Graham Tyrrell, said the next step was to appeal this to the building regulations review board, which it did in May last year.

By September both the company and the city had filed all papers and the matter was “ripe for hearing”.

But two hearings set down in November were postponed by the board.

And a third hearing, scheduled for January, was also cancelled because the contract of the chair of the board had expired.

Tyrrell said the board had said the hearing would resume “as soon as a new chairperson was appointed” and had forwarded to them an advertisement calling for nominations with a closing date of February 22.

“But since then no further communication was received. We sent a final letter in April, demanding that the hearing be heard by the end of that month, but received no response,” he said, describing it as “discourteous and constitutionally offensive conduct”.

“We have no idea whether the nomination or appointment of a chairperson did, in fact, proceed,” he said.

In the meantime, the company could not proceed with any review of the city’s refusal, or its expansion plans.

“We are losing significant revenue, we cannot appoint contractors and the costs of construction and refurbishment are escalating.

“For the board to dither and delay in this manner is not in anyone’s interest, including the public interest. It is a serious and ongoing violation of our right to administrative action… The facts show a pattern of flagrant disregard for its obligations.”

Tyrrell said “uncertainty” on this issue prejudiced investment in the province, slowed economic growth and harmed development.

“There exists a real risk that our shareholders and investors will relocate the funds earmarked for this project elsewhere with the concomitant loss to the economy of the city and the province,” he said.

An order was taken by consent, in which the board undertook to convene the hearing and to give its ruling “within a reasonable time period but no later than 30 days after the conclusion of the hearing”.

Source: The Mercury – Tania Broughton