The city of Johannesburg must decide who gives the authority to develop commercial buildings, Mark Corbett, the CEO of Century Property says.

There needed to be clarity about who had authority in the city planning processes or many potentially beneficial projects would not go ahead, he said.

Century is building a 200-unit student housing block on Streatley Avenue in Auckland Park but is facing pressure from both residents and the city.

There has been an uproar from locals who argue it will be badly managed and that will lead to a fall in housing prices in the suburb.

Corbett said he was building with approval from town planning and that Century was operating within its rights. The city, however, argues that its building control officer, who was suspended in May, did not accept Century’s plans.

Corbett’s team said in court on Tuesday that the city must decide if the authority lies with the officer or with the town planning department that assessed how developments would affect the city and the wellbeing of its inhabitants.

Corbett said Century argued that it had met the requirements necessary to develop the 200-unit plus student housing development near a Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit System route. The development would bring much-needed high quality student housing and help to "densify the suburb".

"We are waiting to see what the court says. Hopefully we will hear by the end of the week. I can say that we are building with town planning approval," he said.

A nearby resident, Jane Griffiths, said the development would lead to the degradation of the suburb and house prices would drop.

At the end of May, the city told Century to stop building, but the developer persisted. The matter then went to court where Century said it was building using a provisional section 7(6) of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act. The court gave the city until June 22 to ascertain whether Century had met the necessary requirements of this act.

On June 18, the city confirmed it had not and revoked the section 7(6).

Century continued to build on Monday June 25 and the city then served them with a "stop" notice, ordering the developer to vacate the site with immediate effect. But on June 26, Century’s attorneys served an objection to the city. Their objection was successful and the section 7(6) was reinstated.

Corbett said if the court ruled that the building control officer decided who had a right to develop in Johannesburg, this would have far-reaching consequences for property developments in SA. "The building control officer is supposed to check that plans meet certain requirements but the actual town planning part of council is supposed to have authority and say if developments can go ahead or not."

City of Johannesburg acting executive director of development planning Chris Dyani, said that Century was ignoring the city’s orders and building illegally. He said, however, he would await the outcome of the court case.

The city declined to share its legal arguments in the matter.