Recent development decisions make mockery of city’s bid to be a bioregion

Cape Times
8 September, 2014

Len Swimmer
Chairman, Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance writes;

COUNCILLOR Johan van der Merwe’s disingenuous letter “City plans are careful” (Cape Times September 4) cannot be left unchallenged. The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance would like nothing better than to be able to applaud the city for its governance but the actions of the present council and its officials are so often at variance with the best interests of the ratepayers.

Van der Merwe’s letter is typical of the “we know best” attitude of those inhabiting the Cape Town Civic Centre, perfectly illustrated in the first sentence of his second paragraph in which the concerns of residents are the last consideration mentioned, though it is they who put the politicians in power.

In the following paragraph the councillor attempts to justify the approval of the 100-seater restaurant in Noordhoek, right beside Chapman’s Peak Drive, as a development need. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Cape Town Spatial Development Framework and the Southern District Plan which informed its content, put together in a meticulous process, including extensive public participation, both state clearly that the spot where this restaurant is to be located is in a rural area, on a proclaimed scenic route, and should not be developed. Anyway, we all know that the development need in the metropole is for housing for the enormous influx of people seeking a better life, not for another upmarket watering hole. Unfortunately the wishes of developers seem to trump all other factors in the DA administration today.

Van der Merwe makes great play that at the same council meeting at which building of the Noordhoek restaurant in a rural and proclaimed scenic area was approved, the city expressed its desire that Cape Town be declared a bioregion. How ironic. That he can be so insensitive to the beauty that makes this Peninsula one of the world’s most desirable tourist destinations says it all.

This councillor – committee member for energy, environment and spatial planning – eagerly presents as a fait accompli the proposed declaration of Cape Town as a bioregion”. This is the first we’ve heard of this noble proposal and we need to ask the question: If biodiversity was extensively covered in the Spatial Development Framework and District Plans (which cost ratepayers millions of rand to implement) and in which critical biodiversity and ecological support areas were included for protection, why then do we need yet another legislated layer? The SDF and District Plans should be the overarching legislation. We now need to investigate the comparison between what was previously listed for protection and what is in this new proposed biodiversity/bioregional plan.

And, only if this bio-regional plan stops the type of thing that happened in the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) will it have some meaning, and that includes the mayor’s executive decisionmaking ability to override public opinion, the SDF and District Plans.

In the PHA, unlike the South-West quadrant, which the province turned down for development, the other application area in the South-East quadrant contained significant tracts of land which were designated as containing critical biodiversity and ecological support areas. This Cosatu aligned application was approved. So how’s that for irrational administration, which is why we took this matter to the Public Protector.

We can only hope that a bioregional declaration will be able to withstand the mayor’s overriding executive decisionmaking and will actually be worth the paper it’s written on.

This has definitely not been the case thus far with the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework and Localised District Plans, as witnessed in the recent council “unanimous” approvals for inappropriate developments in the Philippi Horticultural Area, Uitkamp and Noordhoek.

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