Score one for the en­vi­ron­ment

Stel­len­bosch cam­paign­ers fi­nally see pos­i­tive re­sults af­ter tire­lessly op­pos­ing a golf es­tate devel­op­ment on pris­tine land, writes Anna-Marie Smith

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THE ex­haus­tive 13-year bat­tle of ratepay­ers ob­ject­ing to the pro­posed res­i­den­tial golf es­tate devel­op­ment and ho­tel by the Paradyskloof Golf Es­tate on the en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive fyn­bos site on the Som­er­set West side of the Stel­len­bosch moun­tains, has seen not only the de­feat of the de­vel­op­ers, but also sets a le­gal prece­dent.

Plan­ning of the pro­posed mul­ti­mil­lion-rand devel­op­ment was ini­ti­ated in 1997 when Swedish in­vest­ment com­pany Nordic Trust pur­chased 247ha of land from the Stel­len­bosch mu­nic­i­pal­ity for R16m to fa­cil­i­tate a lux­ury golf es­tate of 250 dwellings, in­ter­na­tional ho­tel and golf course.

Rated as prime land, iron­i­cally, by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and prop­erty spec­u­la­tors alike, this land is the nat­u­ral habi­tat of en­dan­gered fauna, in­clud­ing ar­eas of the rare veg­e­ta­tion type Renos­ter­veld, of which less than 1 % re­mains in the world and only 3% of the orig­i­nal habi­tat in SA re­mains in­tact.

In 1997 the Wildlife and En­vi­ron­ment So­ci­ety of SA ob­jected to the un­law­ful en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment process un­der­taken by the de­vel­oper of the pro­posed Paradyskloof Es­tate. De-

En­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of all com­po­nents or pieces of a devel­op­ment must be iden­ti­fied and in­ves­ti­gated in their en­tirety be­fore an en­vi­ron­men­tal de­ci­sion is taken

spite these ob­jec­tions, pro­vin­cial plan­ning ap­proval was granted by the pro­vin­cial plan­ning min­is­ter, fol­lowed by the pro­vin­cial en­vi­ron­men­tal min­is­ter grant­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­proval in Fe­bru­ary 2000. The Wildlife and En­vi­ron­ment So­ci­ety took the mat­ter to the Cape High Court in 2000 on the ba­sis that re­zon­ing rights for non-agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment on prime agri­cul­tural land was granted de­spite the adamant op­po­si­tion of the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, and prior to the com­ple­tion of the nec­es­sary en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ments.

The Cape High Court set aside re­zon­ing plan­ning ap­provals as well as en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­provals, with costs amount­ing to ap­prox­i­mately R500 000 payable to the Wildlife and En­vi­ron­ment So­ci­ety. In 2004 the prop­erty was sold to Paradyskloof Golf Es­tate, a con­sor­tium of prom­i­nent Stel­len­bosch busi­ness­men who ne­go­ti­ated a new set­tle­ment agree­ment be­tween the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the de­vel­op­ers, in­clud­ing an 18-month sus­pen­sive clause re­lat­ing to ob­tain­ing the re­quired re­zon­ing.

The mar­ket price for the land if de­vel­oped with 547 units was orig­i­nally set at R150m, which later dropped to R75m if 250 dwellings were built, and most re­cent spec­u­la­tion marked the value at around R90m.

The Stel­len­bosch May­oral Com­mit­tee granted the de­vel­op­ers a fur­ther 18 months’ grace to meet the sus­pen­sive con­di­tions, but in 2006 the newly DA-led coun­cil with­drew from the sale and devel­op­ment agree­ment with Paradyskloof Golf Es­tate, who then sought a high court re­view against this de­ci­sion. It lost.

Af­ter Judge Den­nis Davis found the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to have ev­ery right to with­draw, the de­vel­op­ers ap­proached the Supreme Court of Ap­peal to have the de­ci­sion over­turned. The ap­peal was unan­i­mously dis­missed last month by five judges with all costs paid to Stel­len­bosch Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, es­ti­mated to be about R5m.

An im­por­tant le­gal prece­dent set for fu­ture de­vel­op­ments, ac­cord­ing to Wildlife and En­vi­ron­ment So­ci­ety of SA na­tional con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer Andy Gubb, is that in­te­grated plan­ning is the only valid ap­proach. “The clear in­fer­ence to be drawn from the court or­der is that the in­tent of the ap­pli­ca­ble en­vi­ron­men­tal law is for the re­quired en­vi­ron­men­tal in­ves­ti­ga­tions to in­form the over­all devel­op­ment de­ci­sion,” he says.

In fu­ture, he says, the in­ves­ti­ga­tions for devel­op­ment projects which have en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts must be com­pleted, and the record of de­ci­sion is­sued by the rel­e­vant author­ity be­fore any plan­ning de­ci­sions can be taken.

This case also sets the prece­dent that “piece­meal’ en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ments can no longer be ac­cepted, re­lat­ing to the avail­abil­ity of wa­ter and the pro­posed build­ing of a dam.

Its vi­tal role as watchdog in pro­tect­ing Cape Town’s her­itage con­tin­ues

Gubb says: “In fu­ture, en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of all com­po­nents or pieces of a devel­op­ment must be iden­ti­fied and in­ves­ti­gated in their en­tirety be­fore an en­vi­ron­men­tal de­ci­sion is taken.”

He says that en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­provals can­not be con­di­tional on po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies be­ing con­ducted on parts of the devel­op­ment af­ter the de­ci­sion, as part of the en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment plan.

Gubb says that the Wildlife and En­vi­ron­ment So­ci­ety of SA is pre­pared to back down when nec­es­sary. How­ever, its vi­tal role as watchdog in pro­tect­ing Cape Town’s her­itage con­tin­ues. The so­ci­ety, in co-op­er­a­tion with the city and other par­ties, also won the Twelve Apos­tle case ear­lier this year against the devel­op­ment of one of Cape Town’s most pris­tine nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments and steep­est moun­tain slopes.

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