Cape Town. 120111. One of the containers is moved form the site on Chapmans Peak where a toll building is proposed to be built. Photo by Michael Walker

Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

IN a move that could set a precedent, SanParks said yesterday it would de-proclaim a piece of Table Mountain National Park on Chapman’s Peak Drive to allow a private toll company to build its luxury offices.

SanParks chief executive officer David Mabunda told the Cape Times that because the land, just over 2 100m2, had been used during construction of Chapman’s Peak drive, it had “no significant biodiversity value, and can be excised for purposes of developments that are in the public interest, given the well-known problem of land shortage in Cape Town”.

Mabunda said “the de-proclamation process of this piece of land is now under way in terms of the Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003”.

He said he believed the Western Cape government, which had altered the road reserve to include a chunk of national park so the office could be built for the toll company Entilini, was “acting in the interest of the public and country with this development, hence our full support for the development”.

Mabunda’s move has drawn a shocked response from members of the public, who say this will set a precedent.

Melissa Fourie, director of the Centre for Environmental Rights, described SanParks’ decision as “bizarre”.

“When I first read about this development I thought it was an April Fool’s joke, especially coming after the big issue over Oudekraal. How do they justify it politically and morally? What benefit do we as the public get from it? What is their justification for putting this thing up on Chapman’s Peak? Shortage of land? Oh please! The precedent SanParks has set is that they will have to justify in future why they don’t de-proclaim other pieces of national parks for private use – and how will they do that?” Fourie said.

Terry Wyner of the Civil Rights Action Group said yesterday: “I am shocked. I can’t believe our custodians of national parks can say: ‘Oh well, it’s useless land, it can go’. And one of the reasons they give is shortage of land in Cape Town? Hellooo. They can’t give it to the people of Hangberg on the other side, but they can give it to a private company on Chapman’s Peak. The point they’re missing

is that this is state land, for public use, and they’re giving it to a private company.”

He said Murray & Roberts’ mission statement talks about commitment to sustainability and the environment, “but what’s happening here is about environment. It’s huge. I’m devastated.”

Murray and Roberts is the senior partner of the Entilini Concession company.

Asked to comment on the public outcry yesterday and the fact that lawyers acting for residents say construction on the land is unlawful until Parliament has de-proclaimed it, Murray & Roberts spokesman Ed Jardim said: “We believe that due process has been followed and, as part of the concession agreement, Entilini has been given the required and lawful approval to construct the operations office on this site.”

Mabunda said yesterday that the toll gate project had gone through an environmental impact assessment (EIA) during which the public were given an opportunity to “state their side of the story”.

He said the then environment minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, had approved the development in 2008.

In 2009 his successor, Buyelwa Sonjica, had approved site plans for the buildings.

Penny Brown of the Hout Bay Residents’ Association said yesterday Mabunda’s move would “set a bad precedent and encourage SANParks to de-proclaim bits of national parks for all sorts of reasons”.

However, Patrick Dowling of the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA said: “To the best of our knowledge the issue of a de-proclamation or withdrawal of part of the park to accommodate a tolling booth and office block was not comprehensively dealt with in the EIA process that Dr Mabunda refers to.

“Considering the very high public interest, the World Heritage status of Table Mountain National Park and the distinct socio-environmental nature of site, this aspect should not have been neglected,” Dowling said.

“Irrespective of the biodiversity value of the area envisaged for withdrawal from the Table Mountain National Park, such a course of action must not be taken lightly.

“There are probably thousands of potentially ‘less worthy’ spots in the country’s parks that could be proposed for de-proclamation if enough precedent was established.”

He said the Protected Areas Act had clear objectives.

These included the promotion of sustainable utilisation for the benefit of the public in a manner that would preserve the ecological character and promote participation of local communities in management of protected areas.