Chairman musters support in fight against Uitkamp decision

TygerTalk : 20th January 2011

By: Raquel September

Durbanville Community Forum (DCF) chairman George Sieraha has warned other communities to beware of the City running roughshod over their urban edges.

Urban edge not set in stone, warns deputy mayor
This, after the city’s deputy mayor, Ian Neilson, said the urban edge was not set in stone. “The urban edge was a practical management tool subject to ongoing reassessment along with changing urban and economic conditions and more detailed information,” said Mr Neilson in written correspondence with community forums.

Mr Sieraha has been mustering support from fellow community organisations and forums to fight the City on the possible urban development on the Uitkamp farm.

Also known as Clara Anna Fontein, the farm is situated on Vissershok Road in Durbanville (“City gives support to urban creep bid,” Tygertalk, December 9 2010).

Mr Neilson’s comments about the urban edge are in conflict with a map included in the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework’s technical report which indicates agricultural areas “for protection” in the city.
This map clearly defines the Uitkamp farm as “high potential and unique agricultural land” and notes that it has been granted “statutory protection” -the highest level of protection on the map’s key.

Commenting on Mr Neilson’s response to letters from community forums, where he stated that the urban edge was not an immovable Holy Grail, Mr Sieraha said he was shocked at the “downplaying” of the urban edge’s significance and that this should raise red flags in other communities.

“I would imagine that your responses will be used in other urban edge debates,”Mr Sieraha said in response. “The alarm bells should be ringing very loudly for civil society”

The organisations that have vowed to join Mr Sieraha in possible legal action against the City include: the Glencairn Action Group (GAG), the Kommetjie Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (KRRA), the Simon’s Town Civic Association (STCA), Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), The Friends of Simon’s Town Coastline, The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance (GCTCA) and the Aurora/Vergesig Community Forum.

“The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance is dealing with the Uitkamp development application and has written a strong letter to Mayor Dan Plato stating our concerns,” said the alliance’s chairman, Len Swimmer. “We are very concerned how PEPCO’s, which is the Planning Environment Portfolio Committee, authority has been emasculated and that matters are taken directly to Mayco by Councillor Marian Nieuwoudt. This does not bode well for future decisions of a planning nature, especially if the urban edge is to be protected.”

Chairman of the Aurora/Vergesig Community Forum Michael Ettish agrees. He told Tygertalk that the-City had not considered the area’s value and heritage as none of its employees lived there and would not be affected by the decisions they made.
“We have sent letters to Mayco and the premier, showing them that we will fight this in whichever way we have to,” he said.
The debacle arises from an environmental authorisation which is to be approved by the provincial administration, with the Minister for Local Government and Planning having the final appeal authority, according to Mr Neilson.

City media manager Kylie Hatton, said they did not approve the Uitkamp development but were only required to comment on the environmental impact assessment. But Mr Sieraha feels the City’s support of the development, regardless of them not having the authority to approve it, holds a lot of weight with the provincial government.
“Mayco’s thumbs up holds a lot of influence with province and that is where the impending danger lies,” said Mr Sieraha, “Their decision could have disastrous consequences for Durbanville and for the rest of the Western Cape.”

Mr Neilson said professional information provided to the Mayoral Committee showed Uitkamp’s land was of low agricultural value.
“This is a key matter, because if the report had shown that it was of high agricultural value, the need to conserve agricultural land in the area…Mayco would likely have had a different response,” said Mr Neilson.

This, however, contradicts the findings of a senior botany and zoology lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch, Dr Alex Valentine, who did a study on Uitkamp’s agricultural potential in – March 2003 and compiled a report. Dr Valentine did his doctorate in the nutritional physiology of plants. “The soil analysis of the soil at Uitkamp shows that the site is ideally suited for agriculture. In view of urbanisation at the cost of limited arable land, we recommend that the site not be developed but remain agricultural land,” said Dr Valentine. His research shows the site is well suited for plant cultivation. The red colour of the soil, he noted, indicated good drainage and agricultural activity would not have an additional impact on the area’s ground water. “It is our opinion that further urban development would encroach on viable arable land and increase the load of environmental pressure due to urbanisation on the surrounding agriculture,” he said.

Mr Sieraha warns that the rural character of many other outlying communities could hang or fall on what happens in Durbanville.
“We will await the outcome whether Mayco reverses there decision or not. The current administration would be making a grave mistake if they allow this development as it will set a terrible precedent. If this urban edge falls it could well end up having a domino effect on all other Urban Edges in the Western Cape.”

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