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
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.