Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage is confident that e-tolls can be halted in court. File photo: Dumisani Sibeko

Johannesburg - The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) was pleased with the Western Cape High Court's ruling against Sanral keeping secret court papers related to an application to review plans for tolling there.

“We believe it is extremely important that the detailed costs of proposed tolling projects, along with the planned tolling tariffs, expected revenues and the costs due to the tolling operators are open for scrutiny by the very people who are expected to pay for these services, before the toll declarations and plans are approved by the authorities,” Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage said on Friday.

The fact that the SA National Roads Agency Limited felt otherwise was “a display of disrespect to the people of South Africa and an attitude of gross arrogance”.

He said the company had also tried to keep secret aspects of court cases it had fought in Gauteng against Sanral during its own opposition to the introduction of e-tolls in that province.

Outa joint spokesman John Clarke said the ruling would enable the public, economists and infrastructure funding experts to scrutinise Sanral's tolling model.

Sanral had applied to the Western Cape High Court to keep certain court documents on the N1/N2 Winelands Toll Highway project secret during the City of Cape Town's review application but the court dismissed the application.

However, Judge Ashley Binns-Ward made orders that would effectively keep certain information under wraps until the court started the actual review. No date has yet been set for the review.

Sanral and its preferred bidder, Protea Parkway Consortium (PPC), had applied to the court to prevent the City of Cape Town from filing its supplementary founding papers in an open court.

Sanral had wanted the relevant parts to be redacted (removed), while PPC wanted certain parts to be redacted and placed in a “confidential” file out of reach of the public.

Binns-Ward said the city could file its papers per normal court procedure, but that no one could disseminate or publish the administrative record or any affidavit in the supplementary papers before the review hearing.

Sanral has seven days to apply for leave to appeal.

Sanral had divided the content in the city's papers into two categories of information.

The first related to the proposed project's costs, which Sanral argued would cause “unjustified and unnecessary concern among the general public” if released prematurely, as well as antagonism and bias against Sanral.

Sanral asked that the information be kept out of the public domain until it had filed its answering affidavit with its own expert opinions.

Binns-Ward found seeking such relief was unnecessary because all relevant applicants and respondents were bound by the court to use the information only for the review application, not for a “collateral or ulterior purpose”.

This meant the city was not allowed to disseminate or publish the information because it would amount to contempt of court.

The second category of information in the city's supplementary founding papers related to the tender process, which was still outstanding. It included commercial information on the bidders, the debt funding competition, and Sanral's bid evaluation.

Sanral had argued that releasing this before the review hearing “would cause harm and damage to Sanral, bidders in the tender process, the SA fiscus and economy, and the general public”.

The court held the applicants had failed to present a factual case that proved this category of information should be seen as confidential, and thus no relief was granted.

However, the court found the public and other bidders would in any way not have unregulated access to the court file before the review hearing.

In May last year, the city was granted an interim interdict to halt the proposed project, which would remain in force until the review hearing.

The proposed concession route along the N1 extends from west of the R300 interchange to Sandhills. The N2 portion of the proposed toll road concession extends from west of the R300 to Bot River.

About 180km of highway in the province will be tolled should the project go ahead.