City appeals Athlone Power Station heritage site approval

An aerial picture of the Athlone power station towers. Picture: Ian Landsberg

An aerial picture of the Athlone power station towers. Picture: Ian Landsberg

Published Jan 27, 2024


Cape Town - Efforts are continuing to declare the Athlone Power Station a provincial heritage site (PHS) in order to “protect its rarity” as the last remaining power station of its type and scale in Cape Town.

This comes as Heritage Western Cape (HWC) approved a nomination in November by Netherlands-headquartered conservation NPO Docomomo for the station to be declared a PHS – a decision now being appealed by the City, according to lawyers.

Docomomo argues that the station holds early history of settlement in the Cape and twentieth century power stations, representing the era of industrialisation.

“The Athlone Power Station represents an immense technical achievement from a time when there was rapid expansion and investment in large public infrastructure projects.

“The precinct illustrates the application of embedded empirical knowledge combined with innovation in industrial closed-loop systems (eg. the use of recycled waste water) and contemporary construction, tectonics and aesthetics associated with modernism.

“The 100 metre-tall chimneys are technological feats in their own right: free-standing, load-bearing brick structures each as tall as a 25- to 30-storey building,” said Docomomo in motivation.

The City has expressed an intention to use the site to assist in the transformation of its energy footprint and support economic growth and the provision of basic services.

The City argues that the station is adequately protected by Section 34 of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA).

This section stipulates that no person may alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure that is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority.

Mayco member for Energy Beverley van Reenen said the declaration of the station as a PHS was disproportionate to the necessity to protect it.

“There is no threat to the heritage resources on the site. The City understands its responsibility and has previously sought a Section 34 permit to undertake work, which was issued by HWC.

“So, even without PHS status, the site will continue to be protected under Section 34, and the City will continue to ensure it complies with that,” she said.

The HWC council ruled on November 17 that it had a statutory obligation to formally protect the Athlone Power Station, and it approved the declaration as a PHS.

It found the City did not put forward any strong argument on the merits as to why the site should not be considered to be a Grade II and accordingly justified it as being declared a PHS. It said the City’s argument was unconvincing.

“The City seems to be arguing that the inconvenience to the City of the proposed declaration is a motivation not to declare.

“This ignores the heritage significance. The council agrees with the analysis of the significance as presented in the nomination dossier by Docomomo as evaluated against the principles laid out in S3(3) of the NHRA.

“The assertions that there will be ‘no risk’ to the heritage resources if they are not formally protected is unconvincing,” said the council.

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport said it was processing the appeal.

Langa resident and activist since the 1980s, Madoda Dopla Cuphe, said the power station held significant heritage and cultural meaning for residents of surrounding areas.

He said from meetings attended, residents were eager to be involved in the process of declaration, and should this move ahead, it would create opportunities for jobs in tourism.

“Residents used to cycle to work at the station, it created employment and most families or households had someone working there. When it closed it was hurtful to many.

“If it were to be declared a heritage site, then tourism can grow from it. People can host tours in their communities to show how they live.”

He raised concerns that proper consultation with residents over the future of the power site should not simply be a “tick the box” exercise.

Chairperson of the Forum of Cape Flats Civics, Lester September, said according to his engagements with residents, they were not in favour of the demolition of the building in its entirety as it had potential for battery storage and other alternative energy uses, “like a solar plant”.

[email protected]

Weekend Argus