Go-ahead for River Club redevelopment flawed, says City’s environment manager
Cape Town - The R4 billion redevelopment of the River Club in Observatory faced another hurdle when the City lodged an appeal against the environmental authorisation (EA) that was granted by the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning last month, which gave the go-ahead for the development.
In the appeal report by the City’s environment manager, Keith Wiseman, the City said the EA does not give sufficient weight to the environmental impacts that would result from the scale of the development and infilling of river corridor and floodplain associated with the development proposal, most of which is below the 1:10 year flood line.
“This appeal is not opposed to any development on the site: it is the nature and scale of the development approved by the EA that is appealed. The decision does not adequately take into account the City’s comments.
“The decision does not align with relevant national and provincial legislation. Insufficient consideration was given to heritage informants and the relevant heritage resources authorities comments,” said Wiseman.
He stated that the EA was flawed because the decision-makers based their decision on the heritage specialist report rather than considered the authoritative report of Heritage Western Cape’s (HWC’s) final comments.
“The City’s comments on the Basic Assessment Report emphasised that the proposed development does not conserve sufficiently the historical and cultural value and significance of the landscape of the area,” he said.
Last month, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning gave the go-ahead for the redevelopment. It granted the environmental authorisation after the developer followed the prescribed environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and requisite public participation.
Environmental Affairs MEC Anton Bredell’s spokesperson, James-Brent Styan, said: “At this stage, it is still early in the appeals process as the validity of each appeal received must first be determined as mandated by law. The minister will then consider all appeals in terms of the relevant appeal process. To date, 40 appeals on the matter have been received.”
The EA followed HWC’s rejection of a proposal by the First Nations’ bodies and civic and civil society organisations to have the Two Rivers Urban Park at The River Club, in Observatory, declared a provincial heritage site.
The Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust has proposed the construction of several 10-storey buildings and 11.7 hectares of building in the middle of a 100-year-old flood plain. Estimated to cost R4bn, the project will include residential, retail and commercial components, a hotel, offices, conference centre and schools.
The trust said: “We’ve always approached this project with maximum transparency and remained committed to all planning approval processes as required by law.
"We will gladly make our case in the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning appeal process. The next step in the development approval process is to seek rezoning approval from the City.”
But the latest move has raised eyebrows from objectors. For seven years the community has objected to the plans.
Two Rivers Urban Park Association chairperson Marc Turok said it doesn't come as a surprise to him that the City has filed an appeal.
“We know there are those within the City who do not support this development because it does not align with their policy. This City's department of environment and spatial planning has filed an appeal on the basis of facts regarding City policy.
“It takes ethics to stick to policy that is in place to protect the environment, heritage and the public good …” said Turok.
He said the process of assessing the development was flawed.
“We are saying that this park must be preserved as per the policies that have been put in place. We want this park to be retained and must be restored with its heritage.”
Goringhaicona Khoena Council supreme high commissioner Tauriq Jenkins said: “We're ‘shocked, yet in awe’ of the City’s appeal. Having debated this serious issue with them for years, their recent submission marks a moment of unique unity on the matter. It speaks to a crucial symbiotic relationship we all have with the site, of its sacred environment, and the need for its protection. For the Goringhaicona, concrete in the Liesbeek River, and tons of concrete on that ground zero precinct is neither restorative nor just. If the City continues on this trajectory, there is hope yet for the soul of Cape Town.”