Hathersage concerns – Bolander letters 22nd January 2014

Bolander : 22nd January 2014
Gavin Smith
Somerset West

It is with absolute dismay that I learned of the proposed Hathersage development through the Bolander article ‘Hathersage: who should decide’.

Besides the environmental impacts which are for both the City and Province to assess, the fact that the City of Cape Town also needs to approve rezoning from agricultural land to urban development is not comforting in the least. The City Council’s disposition to amend urban edges in a piecemeal fashion presented itself towards the end of last year in an application in the Philippi Horticultural Area (Cape Town’s Breadbasket) where against a tide of public and expert opinion, the City Council approved the amendment of the areas urban edge to allow for development on actively farmed land. Even the city’s own planning officials were set against it. In the case of the Hathersage development, it is of concern that the proponents were not informed of what should be a number of fatal flaws at the pre-application stage.

The City of Cape Town went through an exhaustive process spanning many years before the Spatial Development Framework for the area was finally approved a couple of years ago. Great thought and emphasis was placed on creating a balance between urban development and environmental protection which included the drawing up of the ‘Urban Edge’. The results of this exercise were unique to the Helderberg in that it resulted in massive swathes of agricultural land, previously beyond the urban fringe, being incorporated into the urban edge. The largest of these was the enormous area between Sir Lowry’s Pass Road and the town of Gordon’s Bay. With the proposed Hathersage development being entirely outside the officially approved Urban Edge, why would anybody even consider utilising viable farmland (currently under vineyards and fruit orchards) for development if there are massive areas already within the demarcated urban edge lying fallow? The outcome of this application will undoubtedly be a test for purpose of not only the council and officials but also the legislation itself given that the purpose of the urban edge is in part to act as a long term growth management tool for the protection of natural resources throughout the city. This goal will not be achieved if urban edges appear to be flexible and if development applications for urban land uses outside the urban edge are still approved on a piecemeal basis.

With the understanding that the proposed school bases itself on Christian values there is the sincere hope that these values will become evident with regard to the need for food security and general environmental concerns of global proportion which need to be instilled into every living soul. Having environmental degradation as the foundation to learning does not bode well for the future, not for the learners, not for the community and not our already battered environment.

The Hathersage development footprint encompasses both sides of the Lourens River Protected Natural Environment with a private school and housing on one side and another what appears to be opportunistic housing development having been bolted onto the other. Stark memories of the devastating flooding of this river which occurred on the 15th November remind us of the question if this was indeed a 50 year flood, never mind a 100 year flood and just how much of this disaster can be attributed to bad planning? A possible answer lies in the fact that the local council wishes to indemnify itself against claims where planning approval was granted which results in damage from flooding along the rivers in the Helderberg. This only serves to promote a lack of accountability, which is unfortunately so prevalent nationally. The knowledge that hard surfacing along the catchment of the Lourens River contributes dramatically to flooding isn’t exactly rocket science and yes, we do expect proper governance and accountability from those we employ to uphold the general public interest way above those of self-interest.

In closing it is opportune to quote from the Cape Town Zoning Scheme, approved at the end of 2012, which besides making absolute sense also lends hope that this application will not be approved and that it’s positive attributes will find a more suitable home elsewhere:



Agricultural land should generally be protected from developments that render the land less suitable for agriculture, or detract from its aesthetic and cultural value. Aside from sustaining a valuable economic sector, agricultural land can help to promote stability of the urban edge, conserve naturally sensitive areas and maintain rural characteristics which are valued by the community. Unnecessary subdivision of farms should be avoided and economically viable units must be maintained. Agricultural activities should not be subject to unreasonable limitations because the economic viability of the agricultural sector is important.”

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