Senior officials panned for ‘bias’

Cape Argus – August 30, 2013

Community forum challenges Durbanville developments in the high court

THE CONDUCT of senior planning officials from the province in particular, but also from the city, has been hammered in a high court review application brought by Durbanville residents, who are challenging approval of a major development on a farm outside the defined urban edge.

His officials are accused of, among other things, “systematically misrepresenting” the agricultural potential of the property, authorising the re-use of outdated specialists’ reports, contravening mandatory legislative provisions, allowing themselves to be lobbied, having “closed minds” conducting an assessment of environmental impacts that was “a farce and a dereliction of duties”, suppressing unfavourable information, and failing to apply their own environmental impact guidelines.

The residents “reluctantly” conclude that the decision-making process and the decisions “bear the hallmark of bias” and state: “The trinity of irrationality, procedural irregularity and apparent incompetence of senior officials normally points to bias.”

The application is being brought by the Durbanville Community Forum – a body representing 13 ratepayers’ associations and forums – which wants to overturn or have reassessed a decision by Planning and Environment MEC Anton Bredell to allow development on parts of a farm, Uitkamp.

Bredell rejected the forum’s appeal against his department’s approval of a housing development on the historic 127-hectare farm. The property, between the Durbanville suburb of Aurora and the Clara Anna Fontein game reserve, is outside the urban edge and development has been approved on medium- and high- potential agricultural land. The forum argues this development “could change the face of Durbanville for ever”.

Bredell is the first respondent, with the City of Cape Town and three trustees of the AFM Louw Family Trust. In his letter rejecting the forum’s appeal. Bredell confirmed the approved development encroached “a bit” on medium- and high-potential agricultural land.

He also confirmed the approved development was not within the 2012 urban edge alignment, but said the final environmental impact assessment report had concluded that the development of some 700 houses, a retirement village, private high school, open space network, small private nature reserve and upgrading of the existing conference centre could take place.

In his founding affidavit, forum executive committee member Daniel St Dare said he made “very substantial submissions” in an appeal that should have convinced planning officials of the need for further investigation and an external review of the agricultural and wetland issues.

“As a minimum, a competent case officer should have produced an environmental constraint map, overlaying the wetlands and medium-to-high- potential soils on the layout plan… Instead, the appeal was summarily dismissed and all appellants were categorically advised that it was not competent for lay-people to attack the reports of specialists.”

St Dare stated that the applicant was reluctantly drawn to the conclusion that an internal provincial planning memorandum “reveals a process which was manipulated out of the hands of the competent authority”.

Ariel Gangerdien, spokesman for Bredell’s department, said they had noted the court application and that a decision on whether to oppose would be made once the papers had been received and reviewed by Bredell.

 

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