Environment & Science Writer
MAYOR Dan Plato has confirmed his decision to abandon the city’s Western Cape High Court review application to overturn the province’s approval of the controversial Dassen- berg housing development, off Ou Kaapseweg.
Plato has been described as having been caught between the “rock” of unequivocal legal opinion to give up the challenge and the “very hard place” of trying to please voters strongly opposed to the planned development.
And some of those voters have scant sympathy for his dilemma: the Far South Peninsula Community Forum, the “joint voice of civic, community and environmental member organisations” in this area, greeted his decision with “a deep sense of frustration and despondency” .
“We would have taken the court action ourselves if only we had known that our council is incapable of defending its own Spatial Development Framework and all the other planning policies upon which it spends a great deal of our money,” the forum said in a statement last week.
“If Dassenberg is developed, it will stand as a monument to urban sprawl and toothless officialdom.”
Dassenberg was one of several highly-controversial development applications approved by Pierre Uys, the ANC’s planning and environment MEC, during the dying days of his term of office.
The new DA provincial administration, which came into office after the April 22, 2009 elections, was severely criticised when it declined to legally challenge Uys’s Dassenberg approval, and residents of the Peninsula’s “Deep South” then successfully appealed to councillors to persuade the city to take it on review.
Plato formally agreed to a request from the planning and environment portfolio committee (Pepco) to initiate high court review proceedings, backed by senior counsel’s legal opinion that prospects of success were reasonable, although by no means certain.
The city duly filed its application in October 2009.
But after the respondents had submitted their answering papers in August and October last year, including a lengthy affidavit by Uys, the city returned to the senior counsel for a further opinion.
This time he told the city that because of Uys’s explanations in his affidavit – the veracity of which could not be tested under cross-examination because review applications are decided on papers – there was now a strong possibility that the application would fail, and the city would be ordered to pay costs.
So in December last year Plato withdrew his earlier authority to bring the review application.
But there was still serious unhappiness in the Deep South, which is traditionally a DA stronghold, and so DA councillors approached Plato again and asked him to reconsider, with the Far South Peninsula Community Forum giving the city an opinion supporting a review.
Plato again referred the matter to the senior counsel, whose opinion was again unequivocal: there was a strong possibility that the city would lose and would be ordered to pay costs.
Plato’s dilemma was then whether to proceed with the review and risk facing a possible charge of fruitless and wasteful expenditure in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act if he lost – because he had acted against legal advice – or to face the wrath of voters who might otherwise have been expected to support the DA in the local government elections next month.
He chose the latter. However, Dassenberg is not yet a done deal.
The city has also refused to approve the developer’s sub-division application, and an appeal has been made to planning and environment MEC Anton Bredell.
Spokesman for his department, Aziel Gangerdine, confirmed that this appeal was still being considered by the Planning Review Board, which would make a recommendation to Bredell.
“An exact time frame cannot be provided at this early stage,” he said.