Centralised decisions destroying the City’s natural resources


Cape Times
Monday, 1 September, 2014

By Len Swimmer
Chairman: Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance

I WRITE on behalf of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, to commend the writer of the editorial article in the Cape Times on August 26, in which the arrogance and irrational decision-making by the City of Cape Town has been exposed, despite the objections by the public, professionals, academics, experts or the city’s Spatial Development Frameworks principles. The title of the editorial article ‘Ignorance is bliss’ is appropriate.

The average citizen goes about his or her daily life in wondrous oblivion of what is really happening to and in our beautiful city while centralised power exists in the administration of the city.

There has been a disturbing trend in recent years surrounding certain aspects of local government:

  • Pro-development decisions with insufficient regard for the protection of the Cape’s natural resources: we are fully committed to economic growth but this cannot happen at the expense of our natural resources or biodiversity richness which in itself is probably the Western Cape’s greatest asset in terms of future economic growth in the form of eco-tourism. Secondly development should happen where it is needed, not where it is profitable or easy for developers.
  • A key challenge is “short termism”: politicians are elected for a five-year term. Decisions affecting natural resources, or decisions to switch to a renewable based energy economy or to meaningfully create tourism jobs require investment and hence decisions spanning much, much longer time periods. Officials often suffer from election paralysis with slow or no decisions leading up to an election.
  • A “red tape to red carpet” policy to fast track development applications: this creates a dangerous precedent for abuse, fraud, corruption and the like. It furthermore favours big developers at the expense of the man on the street who has not seen a meaningful improvement in bureaucratic decisions affecting him personally.
  • A decrease and discouragement in the extent of meaningful public engagement in the context of land use planning and development applications: Whilst “serial objectors” do exist and cannot have the right to veto decision making, public participation must be meaningful and controversies surrounding Chapman’s Peak, 100-seater restaurants in Noordhoek, Uitkamp, Green Point Stadium and the Philippi Horticultural Area with a disturbing disregard for public opinion cannot be allowed either.
  • An increased concentration of decision making, including appeal processes in municipal hands without adequate, independent review processes: The removal or watering down of decision making powers of the Spatial Planning, Environment and Land Use Management Committee and sub-council level, is disturbing.

The current structure and the power vested solely in the position of the executive mayor and Mayco (her mayoral committee) was vigorously attacked by the DA when it was in opposition. However, since it has been in power the DA has embraced this form of government, with its dictatorial, centralised control.

The suggestions, opinions, objections and decisions of professionals (even their own officials), civic associations, the general public and experts have been callously overridden with an attitude of “we know best”.

It is time for change, before all our natural capital is further abused or destroyed. The uniqueness of Cape Town with its stunning natural beauty is what makes it attractive to local visitors and overseas tourists who make Cape Town their first port of call when coming to South Africa visiting the country

Tourism is the engine of our economy creating much-needed employment. Public Open Spaces and the World Heritage Site of our Table Mountain range, need to be protected and preserved for future generations, civic organisations should not have to spend millions (which they do not have) in High Court actions to protect and save the Cape Town Pavillion and the sea front from Bantry Bay to Mouille Point.

Who knows what Green Point Common will look like when Public Open Space is sacrificed (in spite of protection by Royal grant to the Citizens of Cape Town) to hideous blocks of concrete flats to subsidise the huge losses incurred in running a stadium that was wasteful of public money and should simply be imploded as the Chinese have done in their country.

The city’s answer to any challenge is “take us to court” and of course they have plenty of our tax payers’ money to defend these court actions. It’s sick.

When is enough, enough?

• Swimmer is chairperson of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance


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