R700k wet­land fine for lux­ury devel­oper

Mail & Guardian - - News - Sipho Kings

The self-pro­claimed lead­ing devel­oper of lux­ury es­tates in South­ern Africa, Cen­tury Prop­erty De­vel­op­ments, has paid a R700 000 fine for build­ing il­le­gally. This comes af­ter a 2015 in­spec­tion by of­fi­cials from the Gaut­eng depart­ment of agri­cul­tural and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment, which found the com­pany had built a wall in a wet­land with­out per­mis­sion. The wall di­verted the flow of water in a trib­u­tary to the Jukskei, north of Jo­han­nes­burg.

The depart­ment is­sued a com­pli­ance no­tice, de­mand­ing the devel­oper fix the prob­lem.

Be­fore this no­tice, Cen­tury used a loop­hole in the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Act — Sec­tion 24G Rec­ti­fi­ca­tion — to get ret­ro­spec­tive per­mis­sion to have the wall. This mu­chop­posed sec­tion al­lows com­pa­nies to ad­mit they broke the law, pay a fine and con­tinue with their ac­tiv­i­ties.

The Inanda Gate Polo Field is part of a larger de­vel­op­ment by Cen­tury and other prop­erty de­vel­op­ers. Cen­tury spe­cialises in pro­vid­ing op­u­lent liv­ing and cu­rated ver­sions of na­ture. In this case, it in­volved a polo field be­tween the River­sands, Beaulieu and Sad­dle­brook es­tates.

In pro­vin­cial plans, much of the north of Jo­han­nes­burg is zoned for agri­cul­ture and to pro­tect the last spots of indige­nous plants, trees and an­i­mals. But lux­ury es­tates have taken over much of this land, in­clud­ing Wa­ter­fall Es­tate, Steyn City and the Blue Hills Eques­trian Es­tate.

This is not the first time Cen­tury has built walls il­le­gally in wet­lands. The pro­vin­cial agri­cul­ture depart­ment has in­spected two other cases, ac­cord­ing to pre­vi­ous Mail & Guardian re­ports.

As part of this trans­gres­sion — 24G ap­pli­ca­tion — Cen­tury said it would re­ha­bil­i­tate dam­age done in build­ing the wall and cre­ate a struc­ture that did less to in­ter­fere with the wet­land.

In an­nounc­ing its de­ci­sion in July, the pro­vin­cial agri­cul­ture depart­ment sent a let­ter to Cen­tury’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Mark Cor­bett. It notes Cen­tury had al­ready paid a R700 000 fine for il­le­gal de­vel­op­ment.

It also says Cor­bett had signed a let­ter stat­ing no sim­i­lar un­law­ful ac­tiv­ity would take place in fu­ture with­out the depart­ment’s prior writ­ten ap­proval and had made a com­mit­ment to com­ply with South African en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion.

The let­ter gives con­di­tions un­der which the de­vel­op­ment can con­tinue. These in­clude en­sur­ing any struc­tures built around the polo field al­low small an­i­mals to move freely, and for noth­ing to dis­rupt the nat­u­ral flow of water in the area.

Cen­tury must then have mon­i­tor­ing au­dits twice a year for three years. En­vi­ron­men­tal in­spec­tors can use these to en­sure the area has been re­ha­bil­i­tated.

The de­ci­sion un­der­plays con­cerns raised by con­ser­va­tion groups when Cen­tury first pro­posed its plans to build a polo field. They pointed out flaws in the pro­pos­als, which in­cluded the ef­fect of the de­struc­tion of the nat­u­ral habi­tat on en­dan­gered species in the area, such as the African gi­ant bull­frog. Re­lent­less de­vel­op­ment has wiped out all but a hand­ful of the frog’s breed­ing grounds.

The de­vel­op­ment also falls into an area zoned for agri­cul­ture and, says the let­ter, the site “is lo­cated within an im­por­tant eco­log­i­cal sup­port area which has the po­ten­tial to pro­vide habi­tat for red-listed an­i­mals, orange-listed plants and pri­mary veg­e­ta­tion [Gaut­eng grass­land]”.

But the depart­ment says Cen­tury can go ahead with its de­vel­op­ment if the con­di­tions are ad­hered to.

In short, Cen­tury broke the law, paid a fine and can con­tinue build­ing its polo field.

Cen­tury could not com­ment in time for pub­li­ca­tion, but will be show­ing the M&G around the Inanda site.

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