River development halted

The lawfulness of a decision by Heritage Western Cape (HWC) to provisionally declare land around the Two Rivers Urban Park as protected was questioned at a municipal tribunal last week.

Interested and affected parties attended the meeting on Thursday October 18, where the City of Cape Town, The Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, Department of Transport and Public Works and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning appealed the decision by HWC.

This comes after HWC provisionally protected the River Club property as a national heritage resource for two years in April – essentially halting plans by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust to develop the property into a 150 000m2 mixed-use development, including shops, restaurants, offices, residential units and a hotel.

Civic organisations and members and leaders of the Khoisan community held a cleansing ceremony outside the tribunal, ahead of the meeting, calling for the decision to be upheld.

At the start of the meeting, City lawyer Peter Kantor argued whether parties other than the applicants were allowed to take part and make submissions at the tribunal.

This was met by fierce resistance from the interested and affected parties, who felt the City had tried to silence them on an issue that affected them.

However, the tribunal chair said it was in the interest of justice, that these parties be allowed to make submissions on the matter.

The trust’s Nicholas Smith said they had appealed the decision on three grounds, being the lawfulness of the decision, the process which was followed and whether there was a quorum when the decision was taken by HWC.

“My client was not notified or invited to make representations on the matter. There is no imminent threat of development as developments of this nature take time,” he said.

Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council high commissioner,Tauriq Jenkins, said it had been a monumental moment for all the interested and affected parties. He said the turn-out for the tribunal had been an excellent show of solidarity.

Mr Jenkins said the land between the Black River and Liesbeek River was of great historic significance and should be preserved. The land was also said to be the cremation ground of the early Quena people.

“Those in support of a proposal that denies their history are indirectly turning a blind eye to the true significance of the site. This is a history that has been neglected and ignored,” he said.

Belisa Rodrigues, Ward 57 representative for Mowbray and a Rosebank and Mowbray Civic Association member, said: “Everyone agrees that the TRUP area is one of the most significant and sensitive historical river and wetland areas in South Africa. However, we are gravely concerned, that without the provisional heritage protection from HWC, that the imminent threat of developing this area (given the River Club rezoning application already in place) will mean we not only lose the last vestige of our green lung, but more significantly the chance for restitution for first nations people.”

Frances Taylor, from Communitree, said the development would violate a range of planning guidelines.

“These guidelines are what protect us and our rights to a clean and healthy environment. It is very clear in law and internationally recognised that wetlands and floodplains should not be developed upon.

“We stand to lose the other potential ways of re-imagining this piece of land. As a spiritual site, as a place to honour the Khoi in a dignified manner, as a place to teach the history of people who managed to live within the limits of their environment, as a place that can be restored ecologically to a better state that provides even more ‘free’ ecological services,” said Ms Taylor.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said they were still collating the objections received for the public comment period on the proposed redevelopment which closed on Monday October 15.

“The applicant will have the opportunity to respond to the comments/objections, where after the City’s development management department will make a recommendation to the Municipal Planning Tribunal.

“Apart from the recommendation, the City will also submit a report to the MPT – the report will include all of the public comments/objections, as well as the developer’s response to these.”

On the decision to contest HWC’s decision, Mr Herron said the City did not contest the decision but asked for clarification as to the resources that were protected by that declaration and the implications for the City in managing its property within the TRUP.

HWC did not respond to comments by the time of going to print.

Interested and affected parties will be able to make oral submissions at the second tribunal meeting on Tuesday November 27.

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