Stellenbosch is a town in the Western Cape province of South Africa, situated about 50 kilometres east of Cape Town, along the banks of the Eerste River at the foot of the Stellenbosch Mountain. File Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - Stellenbosch’s well-heeled residents are up in arms about the upgrade to the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset-West and have said that neither the provincial government nor the municipal authorities care about their concerns.

A number of groups have come together under the banner of the Cape Winelands Integrated Plan Coalition (CWIPC) and approached Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell and Stellenbosch mayor Gesie van Deventer in a bid to halt the project, but they claim all their appeals have been rejected.

The members of the coalition include the Stellenbosch Ratepayers Association (SRA), Heritage Western Cape (HWC), Stellenbosch Wine Routes, individual residents and a group of farmers whose land is situated along the R44. Also among the objectors is leading academic Hans Eggers, from Stellenbosch University.

The opposition to the upgrade ranges from the purely aesthetic, such as that the new road will be “unsightly”, to the economic arguments that taxpayers’ money to be used for the upgrade could be better spent on other projects. There are also environmental and legal arguments against the upgrading of the road.

SRA chairperson André Pelser said: “The first plans we saw for the road were unsightly and we are looking for details on how it will look when it is finished. If they want a freeway, there are other routes they can put it on but we don’t want one in Stellenbosch, which is a jewel in the country.”

Historically the R44 was situated in a largely rural context with mainly medium to large-production farms involved in the wine industry located along the road. “The Stellenbosch Winelands have a beautiful character that we want to preserve.

“Once you build this thing, that is all lost. There is no need for it at all,” said Pelser. Concerned resident Anna-Mie Marais said that the townspeople held a meeting with the mayor and put their objections to her but the mayor had not responded to them. “I want to know who is wasting our money on the road? If they cannot tell us why and how much money is being wasted, maybe it is time they vacated their positions.”

Stuart Grobbelaar, communications manager for governance at the office of the municipal manager, said: “The R44 is a provincial road and all decisions pertaining to the road are taken by the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works.”

While the municipality has twice previously objected to the road upgrading scheme in 2014 and 2016, it has since done a U-turn and is now fully behind the project.

At the time of publication, no response was forthcoming from the office of the MEC for Transport and Public Works, Bonginkosi Madikizela.

However, in 2017 the previous MEC, Donald Grant, and mayor Gesie van Deventer attended a public meeting to discuss the proposed upgrade. At the meeting members of the public raised concerns that the engineers had ignored prior comments and the MEC had promised to look into the matter.

A letter by Pieter Schaafsma, executive member of the SRA, said: “Grant provided no feedback as promised and apparently the municipality has no written record of the meeting. So much for public participation.”

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report written to justify the upgrade said: “Due to the rapid urban growth in the area, this section of the road no longer functions optimally due to high traffic volumes, poor traffic flow and a high-accident rate”

Heritage Western Cape’s Chris Snelling said: “From a heritage point of view, the high-speed mobility model, along with the proposed interventions in their entirety must be considered flawed as the proposed interventions envisaged will have a permanent, irreversible and detrimental impact on the identified heritage resources.”

The coalition appealed against the EIA and contacted Bredell over the issue but Schaafsma said: “Bredell has dismissed appeals against the project and on August 27, 2019, granted a slightly amended environmental authorisation (EA) for construction to proceed.”

Last year, Eggers wrote an appeal stating: “The process itself is fundamentally flawed it has never been compliant with pertinent legislation and policy on all three levels of government. As such, it should ideally be set aside altogether. However, I would under strict conditions accept that parts of the present authorisation be implemented.”

@MwangiGithahu

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