PE housing plan gets the chop
Eco warriors hail Bhisho ruling but metro describes it as jaw-dropping
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.