Even the City of Cape Town thinks this decision fails to respect heritage and natural environment

13 SEP 2020 — 

It’s been pretty incredible. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) produced an implausible document purporting to provides reasons for granting an Environmental Authorisation (EA) to the LLPT for their proposed development of the River Club. Hardly has the ink dried on that authorisation, and whilst the Appeal process is in process, the City of Cape Town’s Municipal Planning Tribunal announced it is to consider a rezoning application for the River Club on Friday 18th September.

Speed dial wouldn’t adequatley describe the relationship there.

Yet there were 28 appeals submitted against the EA including appeals from Heritage Western Cape, the Goringhaicona Traditional Council, the South African Astronomical Observatory, the Cape Institute for Architecture, the Friends of the Liesbeek, the Two Rivers Urban Park Association, the Green Connection and the Rosebank Mowbray Planning and Architectural Committee, as well as the Observatory Civic Association and 18 people appealing in their personal capacities.

The Heritage Western Cape appeal put it very clearly. The DEADP decision was plainly illegal because they simply ignored the fact that the competent authority on heritage matters indicated the application failed to meet the requirements of the National Heritage Resource Act.

That doesn’t seem to stop the City Planners who are fast tracking the LLPT application for rezoning.

But here’s the problem. One of the appeals against the Environmental Authorisation is actually from the City itself – the Environmental Management Department which includes a Heritage Division. Quoting from the appeal, which was issued as “duly authorised by the City of Cape Town”, it does not take a position to oppose any development at all on site, but it does oppose this particular development of inappropriate scale and design and points to the enormous environmental and heritage impacts that are unacceptable and should not have been passed by DEADP.

As the head of Environmental Management says “the EA decision does not give sufficient weight to the environmental impacts that would result from the scale of development and infilling of the river corridor and floodplain associated with the development proposal, most of which is below the 1:10 year floodline. These significant impacts will result in future risks and costs, particularly in the context of climate change and the reduced role of the site as green infrastructure which supports a resilient future. The development proposal is also in conflict with historical planning for the area as predominantly open space and part of the coast to coast greenway.”

Now how come when we say such things, the developers ignore it and DEADP allow them to get away with it?

The Appeal goes on to state that their previous professional and technical comments have been ignored (sound familiar?)

What else does it point out? It makes the following conclusions, all supported by evidence:

1.       There was Insufficient consideration given to the City’s previous comments regarding context, role of the site and desirability of the proposed development.

2.       Insufficient consideration was given to heritage informants and the relevant heritage resources authority’s comments.

3.       There was non-compliance with S38(8) and S38(3) of the National Heritage Resources Act, 25 of 1999 (NHRA).

4.       The stormwater impacts, including flooding, are not sufficiently mitigated against.

5.       In fact, the EA is misleading on the matter of flooding. The EA says “Portions of the proposed site fall below the 1:100year floodline” but the head of Environmental Management points out that it is actually 90% of the River Club site that is beneath the 1:100yr floodline rather than “portions”. In fact, “most of the River Club site is below the 1:10year floodline. This is therefore an error and a misrepresentation of the facts.”

6.       The decision-maker relied on outdated information and the City’s Floodplain and River Corridor Management Policy appears to not have been considered.

7.       The decision does not give due consideration to climate change impacts and resilience.

8.       The decision does not appropriately describe, or mitigate, the loss of open space on site.

9.       The decision does not appropriately describe or mitigate the high negative biodiversity impact or habitat loss of a high faunal sensitivity proclaimed Protected Area and assumes a willingness on the City’s part to relinquish such Protected Area.

10.   There was a failure to consider appropriate alternatives including the no-go alternative.

11.   The decision-maker failed to conduct a site inspection to verify the City’s comments and the decision refers to features that are not present on the site.

So, are we missing something here? Did we not say all of points 1 to 9 before?

DEADP ignored all of the above, which include points that IAPs have been trying to make all through the process, but which have been brushed aside. DEADP simply handed the LLPT an Environmental Authorisation based on their whim and a whisper.

If we are aggrieved about this decision, and believe it was a flawed decision, we have a lot of people who agree without our concerns, including officials whose job it is to look after the environment, heritage and the biodiversity of the area. These are officials who are not going be persuaded to put their professional integrity aside to enable a bad decision to be railroaded through – and we applaud them for their willingness to stand up for the truth.  We need more public officials willing to speak out when they see bad decision being made against the public interest. May South Africa’s democracy be stronger for your actions.

This update has focused on the environmental concerns. Next update will cover the heritage matters in more detail as we consider why an appeal must succeed.

But pause a moment to consider the photo at the top of this update. It is a photo of Moraea aristata in flower at this time – a rare and endangered species referred to by the SAAO in their appeal. The bulb is endemic to the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) site. The SAAO site was the only known site in the country for this rare plant until seeds were harvested, propagated and bulbs planted on Rondebosch Common as a result of collaboration between Friends of Rondebosch Common, the City of Cape Town and Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in an effort to save the species from eradication.

Like the Moraea aristate, our struggle is threatened by powerful forces, but we are resilient and when we flower, like democracy will flower, we will be beautiful. With your support, like the Moraea aristate, we will not only survive but thrive and make the Two Rivers Urban Park into what it should be – a place of beauty, a place of heritage protection, a place of respect for the environment.