Land surveyors – the pioneers of precision

For those well-versed in the complexities of infrastructure projects, we understand that success lies in the details. One such detail, frequently underestimated, is the critical suppor t role of land sur veyors, writes Chris Kirchhoff, a Professional Land Sur veyor and chairman of the South African Geomatics Institute’s Nor thern Provinces branch.

In a muti-faceted built environmental where precision, risk mitigation, and regulatory compliance intersect, land surveyors form the bedrock of every project, yet their contribution is often overlooked in the project cycle. However, their work does generate value and mitigates risks – from engineering, property ownership and land legal perspectives. No client wants to face costly rework and adjustments down the line.

In South Africa, land surveyors adhere to both the Land Survey Act 8 of 1997 and the supporting regulations – which regulates the

survey of land and real rights in land – and the Geomatics Profession Act 19 of 2013, which sets out professional standards and controls who may practice as a land or engineering surveyor.

Geospatial information

The foundation of any infrastructure project is accurate geospatial information.
Here land surveyors are the experts in acquiring and interpreting this data,
providing an essential roadmap for design, planning, and precise implementation.
The geospatial data they collect and analyse can uncover potential issues long before they become problematic. For example:

  • Are there restrictive title deed conditions or municipal zoning issues?
  • Are there boundary encroachments?
  • Does the topography lend itself to development?
  • Is the proposed construction site on a floodplain?
  • Are there any underground utilities that could interfere with the project?

Land surveyors are specifically qualified and empowered by legislation to answer these questions at feasibility study level, thereby preventing expensive and potentially dangerous surprises later in the project cycle – but more critically at pre- construction stage. It’s not as simple as dispatching a drone – unmanned aerial vehicles are great tools, but their job is to collect data, not make sense of it.

Guardians of compliance

One of the most essential areas where land surveyors play a crucial role is in ensuring cadastral and town planning regulatory compliance. Local laws and town planning regulations dictate specific requirements for infrastructure projects, from boundary regulations to floor area ratios to environmental impact assessments. Here, the land surveyors’ expertise helps developers navigate this complex regulatory landscape, ensuring that projects comply with all necessary guidelines and avoid legal entanglements or delays.


Branch and Chairman

Riaan van Jaarsveld

Eastern Cape

Ivan Hansen

Northern Provinces

(Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West)
Chris Kirchhoff

Northern Cape/Free State

Deon van Zyl

Western Cape

Matthew Stuart-Fox

Finance and asset management

Then there’s the financial element, considering that a large portion of local government revenue needs to be sourced from property taxes. Where illegal building extensions occur, for example, that translates into lost revenues. Using a range of tools that include drone mapping and GIS software, land surveyors are equipped to verify and confirm that all plans are accurate, updated and recorded with the municipality and the Surveyor General’s office.

Another core area which speaks to finance is asset management in terms of budgeting for operations and maintenance, and utility billing (like water and effluent). It all boils down to helping clients manage their facilities (like schools) and assets (like roads) more efficiently. Often clients no longer have access to the original as-built plans. That makes it really challenging for major assets to be remodelled or upgraded.


As with other professional disciplines like architecture and engineering, land surveyors have embraced the advantages of building

information modelling (BIM) software to create the so-called digital twin – a virtual rendition of the real world.
The 3D model evolves with the importing of data and in expert hands is an amazing tool for the design, construction and future lifecycle management of any building or infrastructure asset. Costs and quantities can also form part of the model. Essentially, BIM is the hub of the wheel that connects all professionals. For this reason, it should become a far more commonly adopted platform – especially for private and public sector team engagement when planning and executing infrastructure developments.

With the land surveyor on board, everything gets built in the right place. Plus, the technology enables clients to virtually “walk through” the model.

In closing
Exact measurements are non-negotiable in engineering, but it’s clear that the land surveyor’s role is far more complex than this. Their knowledge and talents boost efficiency and safeguard against risks, making them indispensable for future-proof development in our geospatial world.

IMIESAOctober 2023 21

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