Princess Vlei Forum formed

Wednesday 2nd May 2012 saw the official formation of the Princess Vlei Forum.

The Princess Vlei Forum is indeed a forum in the correct sense of the word – a public meeting place and opportunity for experts and citizens to discuss a matter of importance; in this case the future of Princess Vlei and its environs.

What was clear to all who attended the inaugural meeting (mobilised by Mr Philip Bam, Chair of The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance) was the people’s sense of betrayal at not being consulted by the MEC for Environment Western Cape, Mr Anton Bredell, about a recent application for rezoning in the area. Anger was in the air but most of all there was strength in unity. One gentleman who has lived in the area for more than 60 years is prepared to lie in front of a bulldozer to preserve this natural environment.

Educationalists, entertainers, youth, journalists, religious leaders, lawyers and conservationists offered their services.

Ideas for mass meetings, demands to see the Minister, music and theatre and a call on local schools to participate in high profile clean-ups of the area were amongst the ideas thrown out for discussion. This is a community on the move. And they have every right to be this way for they are living adjacent to a natural resource situated along a tourist route to the coast, one that provides locals with recreation, is a lung for the Cape Peninsula, has historic significance, and is the gateway to an important wetland.

In fact situated as it is, the people point out that Princess Vlei is a jewel in the centre of the crown that is the Cape Peninsula. And as such should be treated as precious.

There seems to be some confusion around the 2010 regulations enacted by the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). According to Anton Bredell, the minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and development Planning, and sole ‘competent’ authority, environmental authorisation is not deemed necessary for the proposed development. This is an affront to the environment, the heritage of the area, our children’s future and to the people of the Cape Peninsula. There are some who go so far as to say this is a crime. The Princess Vlei Forum disputes Bredell’s interpretation of the NEMA regulations.

However, what was most noticeable at the meeting, attended by about 50 people, was the enthusiasm and creativity around the discussions for the future, with excellent ideas put forward as alternatives to the Western Cape Government’s consideration of a shopping mall. Already there is a detailed plan for the sustainable use of the area that includes walkways, cyclepaths, recreational fishing, concerts and enviro-education.

The people speak about a Kirstenbosch or a Green Point Park of the Southern Peninsula. And when you hear them speak it does not sound like a dream, rather it is a determined strategy.

PVF formed in response to the Western Cape Government’s consideration of an application for rezoning to part of ERF 82176, Retreat, Western Cape, from Single Dwelling Use Zone and Public Open Space to General Business Use Zone to permit a proposed development of a shopping centre which could be situated as close as 32 metres from the edge of Princess Vlei itself, and occupying 3.7 hectare.

It was noted that within a few kilometres there are five malls and that close to the Vlei numerous commercial corridors have traditionally served the people, maintaining a desirable village spirit. It was agreed that efforts would be better spent uplifting these local areas, rather than building a new complex on a delicate ecosystem. Furthermore local traders would be disempowered by a mall, rentals being notoriously high.

The application to the Western Cape Government for rezoning is an appeal against a previous application that was turned down by the City of Cape Town in September 2011. At that time there was a loose affiliation of organisations and concerned citizens who had the healthy future of Princess Vlei on their agenda. But now they have consolidated into a force to be reckoned with – the Princess Vlei Forum

“Dressing the Princess” is a local project that has been underway for some years. Driven by Mr Kelvin Cochrane of Cape Flats Wetland Forum (soon to be known as CAMPS-Caring and Managing Public Spaces), its aim is to safeguard the area near the Vlei for recreational and educational use and rehabilitation of the delicate sand fynbos. In August 2011 Mr Cochrane received an award from Western Cape WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) for this work. (The website is informative about the conservation work at Princess Vlei and surrounding areas).

The people have every intention of ensuring this jewel of the Peninsula functions for locals and tourists as a place of natural beauty.

It was brought to the attention of the meeting that the Minister of Environment Western Cape, Mr Anton Bredell, is under the impression that the “Sasmeer Ratepayer’s Association, the Princess Vlei Civic Association and a Ward Councillor all supported the proposed development of the shopping centre with some seeing it as a definite improvement of the derelict current state of the property in question.” This is a quote from Minister Bredell’s correspondence to The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, Reference 3/6/2(2011/67) dated 12/4/2012.

As those mentioned in this letter did not attend the meeting it was not possible to validate the statement but the PVF is keen to discern the extent of their commitment.

With reference to crime in the area the PVF does not see that a shopping centre is a way to reduce crime.

Apart from the numerous private citizens (both local to the area and from further afield) who attended the inaugural meeting of PVF on Wednesday 2nd May to voice their concern about possible inappropriate and unsustainable development near the Vlei, there were representatives from a number of organisations:

Lotus River Grassy Park Residents Association (LOGRA); COSATU (Local); Southern Suburbs Legal Advice Centre (SLAC); Cape Flats Wetland Forum; Heal the Hood; Black Noise; Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance; Retreat/Steenberg Civic Association; Kenwyn Civic Association; Langevlei Civic Association; Grassy Park Traders Association; ANC ( Local); Schaapkraal Civic Association; Grassy Park Community Police Forum.

A decision was taken to address several concerns simultaneously. To this end a number of portfolios were allocated:

• research – facts and history of application
• legal recourse – should it be necessary in the future
• media campaign
• community action
• ascertaining the needs of local traders (Grassy Park, Busy Corner, Lotus River, Sasmeer, Retreat)
• publicising alternative sustainable plans
• liaise with those who find favour with the proposal

The area is ripe for mindful best practice development, perhaps even a model of sustainability for the future – where local is more important, where the heart of the community is not lost, where “small is beautiful” (Economist Dr EF Schumacher 1911 – 1977). But for this to happen a holistic approach is necessary and all stakeholders need to be consulted – that is traders, homeowners, schools.

David Hockney RA, contemporary British artist well-known for his Nature paintings said, “When there is any threat to our landscape, we should all stop being so polite; stand up and speak out more.”

Mea Lashbrooke
The Princess Vlei Forum
Tel 0741011927
9th May 2012

1 comment to Princess Vlei Forum formed

  • Colleen Brain

    I fully support the opposition to a shopping centre at the Princess Vlei and the suggestions for alternative plans to develop the recreational and social and cultural uses of the vlei in a way that sustains and restores the original ecology. The negative impact of this development is likely to be far greater than that of the proposed Entilini headquarters on Chapmans Peak drive. As witnessed by the e-toll saga, if enough people oppose a plan, it can be changed. Please add my name to your mailing lists so that I can be aware of any initiatives you are planning.

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