Cape Town - The City of Cape Town has been accused of “playing double jeopardy” with the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) following its attempts to buy of land within the PHA from a developer.

It has also been accused of wanting to buy the land at a price higher than its current value.

The City wants to buy the land from UVest Properties on condition that it is rezoned for residential purposes. The City’s interim planning committee visited the site about two weeks ago because it wanted to approve an application for “infilling housing”.

Infill housing applies where roads are already available and there is access to water and electricity supply.

Cope councillor Farouk Cassim said the City would be hit with a “double whammy” if it went ahead with the plans as this would damage the Cape Flats aquifer, a possible water source for the city - and also have a detrimental effect on other infrastructure.

“So, if the City goes ahead with the plans it will cause double damage - to the water supply and on other infrastructure and environment. That decision would be short-sighted. Our children would ask us why we took such a stupid decision,” Cassim said.

The PHA on the Cape Flats is an above-ground catchment area which includes farmland and wetlands that serve an underground freshwater system, the Cape Flats Aquifer.

The aquifer is a massive integrated groundwater system which is estimated to be 630 km² - enough to supply a third of the city’s freshwater supply.

Cassim said should the development take place, this would damage the aquifer as contamination could occur and water levels drop, which would also lead to salt water seeping in.

Some of the land is owned by UVest, and another developer, Oakland City. Despite several studies that have highlighted the importance of preserving the PHA for food security, the City’s interim Planning Committee approved on November 8, the development application.

The decision, said the City, was subject to the right of appeal to be issued to the applicant and objectors in January.

Kevin James, of GXC Africa, said the City’s pro-development policy was a “bad idea” which would cost the citizens significantly given the drought in the region.

“They should look at the fertile land in the PHA as an opportunity to drive sustainable water and food supply,” he added. GCX Africa describes itself as an organisation which “helps transform organisations into sustainable businesses, with best practice corporate sustainability”.

The PHA Campaign, which is backed by 33 civil society organisations, has questioned the City’s rationale behind the purchase of the land, which it believed would be sold at R52million, far above at the current value of over R20m.

“Why is the City wanting to buy the land when it has no real mandate from ratepayers to make the purchase, and ignoring all the evidence submitted by the studies that it should be preserved as agricultural land?" asked the campaign’s Nazeer Sonday.

He warned that should a decision to allow development in the PHA be taken, it would only benefit a few “the developers and the mayor”, and not the community.

Weekend Argus