City must protect our citizens and environment from developers

philipbamsundayargus20112016aWeekend Argus (Sunday Edition) 20 November, 2016
Chairman: Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance

City must protect our citizens and environment from developers

FELLOW Capetonians, we live in interesting times. We live in a fast-changing local government dispensation. One of the manifestations of this change can be noticed in the huge increase in the cost of living in Cape Town. Our municipal taxes have risen enormously.

Tariffs have increased to such an extent that soon our children will be asking us what we used for lights before the candle and we will say electricity.

The cost of energy has risen to such an extent that soon we will be forced to have Earth Hour more regularly than before, where all lights are switched off and we live in darkness. Yet, the City of Cape Town seems to make it extremely difficult for people to develop their own energy and sell the excess back into the grid.

Wise governments all over the world encourage investing your excess power from your renewable energy efforts back into the grid for the good of the community, but I am afraid that is not being encouraged here in Cape Town. It appears that our environment has become the proverbial lamb being led to be slaughtered on the altar of what is called development.

Destroying our natural environment and replacing it with concrete jungles, in my estimation at least, can in no way be called progressive development. The cosy relationship between our local government structures and the Western Cape Developers Forum, where red carpet treatment ensures the big developers easy passage to encroach on the urban edge, where zoning rules are amended to allow more units for profit and where the seemingly insatiable mammonic greed is fed.

The battle of the Durbanville Development Forum is but one example. It is sad that they lost the battle to big developer money. The threat to the Philippi Horticultural Area, Cape Town’s bread basket, is another example of how things have changed to suit the developer. No longer can we depend on those we elect to office to protect our environment.

The questionable processes regarding the development plans for Maiden’s Cove speaks volumes of the little regard for the will of the people to protect their open public spaces from the grubby hands of the greedy developer. The question begs to be asked as to why the landscape and skyscape of the Bo-Kaap and the unique ambiance of the area should be sacrificed for the sake of what is called development.

The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance (GCTCA) joined others in protesting unwise developments. The new push to sell off publicly owned land to developers is cause for great concern. The proposed sale of the Tafelberg site in Sea Point is an issue at hand. We salute organisations such as Ndifuna Ukwazi and others for their valiant efforts to redirect the thinking about the selling off of publicly owned land and the consequent eviction of people who have made the places their home for generations.

The alliance is clear in its position that any land to be sold in or close to the city centre must be done through a meaningful public participation process. The Integrated Development Plan (IDP) process of the city is probably the best example of process capture by those who have the power. Ratepayers are called to an IDP meeting not to discuss what they would like to have on the budget, but rather to rubber stamp what the local government has planned. Taking advantage of the lack of resources and skill of civil society, the city government can get away with whatever it is they want to do.

I want to suggest that the city can start to become what it calls a caring city by focusing more on making it possible for the poor to enjoy the pleasures of living in Cape Town. One way is to cut the cost of governance. Do we really need 231 councillors when most of the decisions are taken by the executive mayor and the Mayco? I understand that the municipal council in Cape Town is larger than the national legislatures in many countries. There might be many dynamics to this, but really, 231?

I know the city is reviewing its policy regarding the use of consultants and this should be welcomed as another cost-saving measure. Apart from the number of councillors, is it necessary to be paid so much even as a part-time councillor? A 25 percent drop in councillor salaries will go a long way to making a contribution to the cut in exorbitant local government taxes and tariffs. Another way of saving for the city is to resist taking its ratepayers to court every time there is an objection by organised civil society.

Philip Bam is chairman: Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance.

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