South Africa


Blow for eco-activists in River Club development

Blow for eco-activists in River Club development
Activists oppose a proposed development in Liesbeek Park which is a flood plain. (Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

MEC has dismissed appeals against the issue of environmental authorisation.

First published by GroundUp.

On 22 February it was announced that Western Cape minister for Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEA&DP) Anton Bredell had decided to dismiss appeals lodged against the Environmental Authorisation (EA) issued by his department in August 2020 for a proposed R4.5-billion development in Observatory.

This is the latest development in an almost five-year battle between civil society organisations and the property owner, Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust.

Appeals against the Environmental Authorisation were lodged by 21 different organisations and individuals.

The decision by Bredell to dismiss appeals against the authorisation came one day before a meeting of the City of Cape Town Appeal Panel. At the time of publication, no decision by the Appeal Panel has been released.

“By the way things were going, it seemed pretty obvious what the decision is going to be,” Leslie London, one of the activists leading the fight against the development, told GroundUp.

“We’ve definitely taken a blow. It’s not good to see how democracy is destroyed,” said London, who claims that the processes have been orchestrated by the City and the Province to favour the development and that economic benefit is being prioritised over any other considerations.

London said that they have started fundraising to take their fight to the courts.

But James Brent-Styan, spokesperson for DEA&DP, said, “The Ministry denies that a democratic process was not followed. The Appeal decision issued by Minister Bredell dated 22 February 2021 was procedurally fair and reasonable. The appeal process followed the legal requirements as set out in the National Environmental Management Act and the National Appeal Regulations, and complied with the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act. Furthermore, there was both public support and opposition to the development which the Minister considered and not only civic opposition as inferred.”

The developers say the project will bring significant economic stimulus to the City, creating over 6,000 direct jobs and uplifting the area for improved economic activity.

Those against the development are concerned it will have a negative impact on the environment and heritage of the site. Building on the site, which is a floodplain, will involve construction that is damaging to the natural environment and can cause flood risks, London said.

Jody Aufrichtig, trustee and spokesperson for the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, disputes concerns that conflict of interest has played a role in achieving environmental approval for their development. “Our proposed plan will substantively upgrade and revitalise the site, with local flora and fauna and a rehabilitated riverine, wetland area, with particular benefits for the Western Cape leopard toads,” Aufrichtig told GroundUp.

The heritage of the site is significant because it is where Khoi people were originally driven off their land by Dutch settlers. This led Heritage Western Cape to issue a Provisional Protection Order in 2018, which has since expired. The order was appealed by Bredell’s department.

In April 2020, the Heritage Western Cape Appeals ruled that the provincial departments of Public Works and of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, as well as the City were acting against their constitutional obligations towards cooperative governance by not considering the true impact the development will have on the heritage of the site.

In October 2020, the Department of Public Works filed papers in the Cape High Court to have parts of the ruling overturned.

Since concerns for the heritage of the site were first raised by the activists, the developers have included in their proposal a cultural and media center, which will honour the Khoi heritage. First Nation symbols will be included within the architecture, and an indigenous garden, heritage eco-trail, and amphitheatre are included in the plans.

Aufrichtig says they took part in a First Nations workshop, which was convened by the Province on behalf of the Two Rivers Urban Area and facilitated by an independent social anthropologist. The Khoi representatives in attendance described themselves as the First Nations Collective, Aufrichtig says, which comprises members of the majority of Khoi leaders. The development is supported by the First Nations Collective, Aufrichtig says.

Tauriq Jenkins, High Commissioner of the Goringhaicona Khoin Khoi Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC), did not attend this workshop and opposes the development. Jenkins maintains that the site should be dedicated to the acknowledgement and commemoration of the cultural ethnocide of Khoikhoi and San indigenous groups, and be recognised as a National and International Heritage site.

Aufrichtig says that their heritage assessment report was prepared by independent experts “in contrast to the emotive, personal and mostly uninformed views of the activists”.

“We have always approached this project with maximum transparency and steadfast commitment to all environmental, heritage and other planning approval processes as required by law. It is regrettable that a small group of people who claim to speak for the working class and poor, are trying to block a project that will contribute towards spatial justice and improving access to private land in the City,” Aufrichtig told GroundUp. DM



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ritchie Morris says:

    Putting the cultural issues aside, building in a flood plain is just pure and simple irrational and the wrong thing to do. I have seen The Riverclub car park nearly 1 m under water – just look at the old newspaper records for Jan 2007 and July 2012. Without significant alteration to the downstream channels the area will probably flood again. Who will pay for any damages ? Those who approved the development ? Surely there are many other places in CT that should be developed more so than this site, parts of Ysterplaat, Wingfield, Youngsfield. Access is already constrained in the Black River Park area. Or is BIG money deciding over common sense?

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Local government and city council love to ignore flood plain problems when money is involved.Case is Vergelegen Medicare City Hospital, next to Lourens river,Somerset West.Just because we have the best tarred roads in the country,doesn’t mean our local government can ignore other clean rivers, building below the flood line.They take everybody’s tax money but when it comes to development it is only cape Town that benefits.Saying you are there for the people is hogwash when you are not consistent in all dept .Up where the money is there the river quality is great, the middle class and poor can get stuffed .Look at black River liesbeeck river all the small rivulets and side streams.The river mouths at milnerton muizenberg, strand etc.Now you start realizing it is spatially developed like Cecil John Rhodes is still here ,the upper class in the green belt and the commoners outside.Historical and cultural values of everybody is of the utmost importance,including there heritage site.Logic dictates that you get a win ,win situation for everybody.Not if you love the smell of money,stuff politics and start being real leaders,everybody can use logic and see through your hollow words when money comes first

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