City of Cape Town wittling away public participation

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Letter published with the kind permission of the Lotus River Ottery Grassy Park Ratepayers Association (LOGRA)



Madam Mayor

LOGRA CIVIC hereby register our deepest concern and dismay at what appears to be an attempt to by your council to curtail public participation in planning matters through the proposal to amend the System of Delegations for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning (EESP) Matters. Council committees, while not perfect structures, at least offered opportunities for public input.

In the last few years our association noted the wittling away of the public participation impact by rather arrogant responses to community objections to proposed developments which communities felt was not in their best interest. It has always been our position that the voice of communities must be determinative in these matters as it is the community that must live with the impact of an inappropriate development. We cite a very recent example where an electricity transformer was too weak to carry the increased load of new developments in our area. We hear that the advice of council officials to have it replaced fell on deaf ears resulting in some parts of Grassy Park being without power for over 30 hours. A new block of flats, to which the community objected is approved in close proximity to that transformer. This is just one example of what can happen when public participation is only given lip service. Public engagement in the most rigorous form will ensure a balanced city developed with the interest of its ratepayers and inhabitants in mind.

We fear concentrating such enormous power in the hands of an individual can have disastrous consequences. The system of public participation has already been compromised by your previous decision to recall decision-making authority from council’s planning committee. Any government decision making system requires solid checks and balances to ensure that the will of the people is upheld. This proposal seems to have the effect of doing away with the necessary checks and balances.

We interpret the ruling in the recent case regarding the closing of schools to indicate that the public participation process cannot just be seen as a “we have done the minimal required” exercise. Your proposal might be in conflict with a court ruling and whilst we know the City will use our rate payer money to fight the community in court, this sort of decision will lead to many court battles.

It appears to us that the City of Cape Town is intent on being driven by monetary factors instead of the need to balance appropriate development in our beautiful city.

We need a City leadership that will engage meaningfully with its citizens, encouraging participation. It is a real shame when the Mayor of Cape Town in almost every response to the concerns of the people, would say that the community don’t understand or don’t have the proper facts as happened in the case of the shameful attack on the food basket of the Flats, the PHA. If this is already the case, how much more power arrogance will we not see if this proposal is allowed to go through. The approach to Princess Vlei is an example. When the City’s own biodiversity professionals and science indicate that no concrete development should take place at Princess Vlei, the City seems hell-bent on ignoring it and continues to consider the sale of culturally and environmentally sensitive land. We fear this proposal will just perpetuate a reckless disregard for community participation which will militate against our city being a caring and sensitive one.

May we remind you that in the Codesa talks, the compromise for the acceptance of a proportional elective system, was the undertaking to ensure a public participation regime. Through his process the people would ensure responsive government. This proposal will do much to undo that good intention. The alternative to this is people taking to the streets as we have seen in the recent past.

We would encourage more creative ways of citizen engagement and rather more than less. Buy-in comes when people feel that they are part of a process. Sense of ownership ensures protection and support for suitable developments. Doing away with the extensive citizens engagement, which was possible through sub-councils, Spelum and other representative structures, is a recipe for disaster. Our people want to be part of developing a shared future for all the people of this City and believe that this proposal, for whatever intention, will take away such opportunities and create a citizenship that festers anger which might boil over one day into Cape Town’s own Arab Spring.

We urge council not to accept this disempowering proposal and find more constructive ways to ensure people’s input.

Yours sincerely

Natalie McAskill

LOGRA Executive Member


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