PE hous­ing plan gets the chop

Eco war­riors hail Bhisho rul­ing but metro de­scribes it as jaw-drop­ping

The Herald (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Guy Rogers rogersg@ti­soblack­

ACONTESTED plan to build al­most 3 000 houses op­po­site Bay­west Mall has been stopped in its tracks by Bhisho due to the threat it poses to the cru­cially in­te­gral Baak­ens River.

The pro­vin­cial Depart­ment of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs and Tourism has turned down Nel­son Man­dela Bay’s ap­pli­ca­tion to build the homes in the up­per catch­ment of the Baak­ens on the city’s western rim.

While the land­mark rul­ing on the N2 North project has been wel­comed by groups op­posed to the project, the metro has de­scribed it as jaw-drop­ping.

The depart­ment said pro­tec­tion of the site was vi­tal to off­set the ex­ist­ing de­vel­op­ment in the catch­ment – notably Bay­west Mall – and hous­ing re­quire­ments should rather be pur­sued by ac­ti­vat­ing dor­mant ap­proved projects and den­si­fi­ca­tion of ex­ist­ing suburbs.

But metro land plan­ning and man­age­ment direc­tor Schalk Pot­gi­eter said he was con­cerned that the in­te­grated so­cioe­co­nomic po­ten­tial of the project had not been recog­nised. “My jaw hit the desk,” he said. “We need to in­ter­ro­gate [the rul­ing] and as­sess if it is vi­able to ap­peal.”

The metro-driven N2 North plan de­tails 2 949 houses to­gether with var­i­ous com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties and busi­ness and light in­dus­try premises to be built on a 225ha site across the high­way from Bay­west and abut­ting Rowal­lan Park.

The project in­cludes a new high-ca­pac­ity road on the west side of the site – par­al­lel to Bay­west Boule­vard on the east side – link­ing Cape Road and the N2.

When plans to un­lock de­vel­op­ments in the western suburbs were un­veiled four years ago, it was en­vis­aged that Bay­west would be in­volved in some of the ini­tia­tives while co-de­vel­op­ers would come on board for hous­ing projects.

The depart­ment said in its rul­ing that build­ing low-cost and mid­dle-class hous­ing at the edge of the metro had a high prob­a­bil­ity of cre­at­ing an un­sus­tain­able so­cioe­co­nomic cli­mate.

The en­vis­aged light in­dus­try and busi­ness premises com­prised just 6% of the de­vel­op­ment area and the job op­por­tu­ni­ties aris­ing from this would likely be very lim­ited.

“The near­est node for other mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment is Bay­west [where] em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties are largely filled.”

The depart­ment said the Nu Way, KwaNob­hule In­te­grated Hous­ing Es­tate, Jachtvlakte and Utopia hous­ing projects and more homes linked to Bay­west and nearby Par­son’s Vlei had all been ap­proved, but had not yet been built.

“It is ev­i­dent there is an over­sup­ply of hous­ing in the im­me­di­ate and sur­round­ing ar­eas.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­fusal no­tice, one of the site’s key ecosys­tem ser­vices – free ser­vices that would oth­er­wise have to be funded with tax­pay­ers’ money – was reg­u­la­tion of rain­fall flow into the Baak­ens.

Rain­fall seeped through frac­tured rock and soil bound by fyn­bos, en­sur­ing a steady but never tor­ren­tial flow, countering floods and droughts.

“The risk of af­fect­ing this very care­fully bal­anced sys­tem through the ad­di­tion of hard sur­faces, in­creas­ing the vol­ume and speed of over­land flow, as well as the risk of pol­lu­tion from the de­vel­op­ment, es­pe­cially in this sen­si­tive up­per catch­ment, is not ac­cept­able,” the no­tice said.

The depart­ment said the catch­ment “sponge” was vi­tal to the metro be­cause of the con­tri­bu­tion of a healthy Baak­ens to sus­tain­ing bio­di­ver­sity, which un­der­pinned recre­ation, tourism, prop­erty val­ues, clean air pro­vi­sion and cli­mate con­trol.

The N2 North site in­cludes eight rare or threat­ened plant species, in­clud­ing a hon­ey­bush tea va­ri­ety and two suc­cu­lents which grow on dis­tinc­tive rocky

My jaw hit the desk. We need to in­ter­ro­gate [the rul­ing] and as­sess if it is vi­able to ap­peal

out­crops, a key fea­ture of the area.

When the depart­ment ap­proved the Bay­west project five years ago, one of the con­di­tions was that the de­vel­oper had to al­ter its plans to build around the main rocky out­crop on that site.

The de­vel­oper ap­pealed against this, but then eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and en­vi­ron­ment MEC Mce­bisi Jonas re­jected the ap­peal.

In March 2012, how­ever, Jonas did an about-turn and up­held the ap­peal.

Ac­cord­ing to Week­end Post’s in­ter­view at the time with the na­tional Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs, this al­ter­ation of an ap­peal rul­ing was il­le­gal.

How­ever, the out­crop was lev­elled, mark­ing the end of a fierce cam­paign against Bay­west by eco-watch­dogs, and the mall was built as planned.

The depart­ment said in its N2 North rul­ing th­ese out­crops were es­sen­tial in sus­tain­ing the bio­di­ver­sity of the area.

“They are ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble es­pe­cially in light of those al­ready lost in the Bay­west area.”

It said the N2 North was se­verely at odds with its re­cent ap­proval of a bridge over the Baak­ens at 3rd Av­enue, New­ton Park, and the ini­tia­tives to re­ha­bil­i­tate the river mouth.

“In light of this ef­fort to re­turn the river to a more nat­u­ral state, de­struc­tion of the up­per catch­ment through de­vel­op­ment is non­sen­si­cal.

“The im­por­tance of the Baak­ens to the city must be at the fore­front of any plan­ning, and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion along its en­tire course should be a pri­or­ity for the [metro].”

The N2 North site was vi­tal in terms of this strat­egy and should be for­mally man­aged as a con­ser­va­tion area, it said.

Baak­ens Val­ley Ac­tion co-founder Dr Rose Buchanan said the rul­ing was great news.

“It recog­nises the im­por­tance of the catch­ment sponge and stops ur­ban sprawl, so it’s a great prece­dent,” she said.

Nel­son Man­dela Univer­sity botanist and Baak­ens Preser­va­tion Trust com­mit­tee mem­ber Dr Nelia Gar­ner said the rul­ing was amaz­ing.

“Now the metro and part­ners can take up their duty of care for that site, which is such an as­set,” Gar­ner said.

Cus­to­di­ans of Rare and En­dan­gered Wild­flow­ers spokesman Adriaan Grob­ler said the site was rid­dled with en­dan­gered plant species, “so this is def­i­nitely good news”.

Bay­west gen­eral man­ager Troy Zunckel de­clined to com­ment on the rul­ing.

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