Activists have hailed the dismissal of an application to rezone prime agricultural land in the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) as a victory, and a punch in the gut to developers and the City, which they say has used bullying tactics to push the development through.
On February 24, Heritage Western Cape (HWC) dismissed a second appeal by developer UVEST Property Group, appearing as Exclusive Access Trading 570, who applied to rezone 96 hectares of land on the PHA.
This UVEST development is just one of the proposals for the land – there has also been widespread opposition to a 472.36ha planned housing development called Oakland City.
UVEST’s first appeal was denied in June last year as the appeal committee said the area was worthy of conservation, and refused to rezone it.
The PHA is 3000ha of farmland in the heart of the Cape Flats, and opponents of the developments say they will threaten the livelihoods of emerging farmers and their workers and local food security, and seriously jeopardise a 630km² aquifer.
The campaign’s Nazeer Sonday said that for the first time, an arm of government had come out strongly in favour of protecting the area.
“This is a small but very important victory. In this instance, HWC is asserting its mandate to protect the heritage resources.
“We feel we are under severe pressure in the PHA in protecting our area. Our area is valuable for us as farmers, but it’s also very valuable for Cape Town and all its citizens.
"Our farmers supply the city with 200 000 tons of vegetables a year, and we are by default the guardian of the Cape Flats aquifer. The aquifer has been identified to contain so much water that it can supply the city with 30% of its potable water needs,” Sonday said.
The campaign says the HWC ruling contains legal clarity on the City’s perceived right to be the final authority on all municipal planning matters, with positive implications for civics across the city who have been “bullied extensively” via the City’s claim.
The issue went to an independent appeals tribunal, which unanimously upheld the HWC's decision to support the dismissal of the appeal.
The tribunal found that: “In weighing up the socio- economic benefits of a future development against protection of the PHA as a heritage resource, it is clear at the visit on site, and from information gathered, that it is not in the interest of the people of Cape Town to develop the PHA.
“If any development of this fragile area is allowed, it will be the beginning of the end of protecting this cultural landscape in total, resulting in irreversible damage to all spheres of life and especially for the people living in its close proximity.”
The tribunal also noted that approving the requested rezoning was likely to be used as a precedent for allowing future rezoning applications.
“It’s known that land-use control must strike a balance between private property rights and the public interest. Conversion of farmland to urban development reduces the amount of land available for food production.
"Even more so in the case of the PHA. Food security is becoming an issue, and urban gardens are being promoted worldwide, of which Cape Town boasts seven well-known examples.
"It is essential that agricultural land within urban areas be protected and carefully guarded,” the tribunal found.
In a statement, UVEST said: “UVEST feels that Heritage Western Cape have failed to address the issue on its merits.
"UVEST is therefore in the process of lodging an application with the Cape High Court.”
The campaign also claims that the City intends to buy the land, and in a twist of due process to facilitate the sale, the City had asked for and been granted permission from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning to rezone the land without an environmental impact assessment.
The City said it would respond to requests for comment today.