High Court to determine fate of road through wetland that links Masiphumele and Noordhoek

A view of the wetland on Houmoed Avenue. Picture: Tracey Adams / IOL News

A view of the wetland on Houmoed Avenue. Picture: Tracey Adams / IOL News

Published Nov 7, 2023


The Noordhoek Environmental Action Group (NEAG) is mobilising their community to join them in protest action at the Western Cape High Court on November 8. That is when their matter to oppose the construction of a road through a Noordhoek wetland will be heard.

Members of NEAG, a local NPO, have been fighting the construction of Houmoed Phase 1 road since 2002 and have now mounted an awareness campaign, picketing at Noordhoek Supermarket & Butchery on Houmoed Avenue on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.

A road construction earmarking Houmoed Avenue for extension into Masiphumele will, according to the community and environmentalists, reduce or eliminate toads and biodiversity in the area. (Yellow arrow = proposed road extension. Blue circles = existing ponds. Picture: Tracey Adams / IOL News

The proposed road, which is at the heart of their plight, will link the existing Houmoed Avenue to Lekkerwater Road in Masiphumele if construction goes ahead.

They have been gathering signatures and informing residents of the dire effects of the proposed road will have on biodiversity and wetland functionality and encouraging them to show up at the Western Cape High Court on November 8.

Alison Faraday is the co-founder of ToadNUTS. The group consists of volunteers who patrol the streets at night where toads are migrating to ponds. Picture: Tracey Adams / IOL News

Alison Faraday, co-founder of ToadNUTS, said, “We are gathering public opinion to tell people what is at stake if we have a road through our wetland. We are here to say no to the road. We do not want our wetland to be destroyed for future generations. [Say no to the road] is our campaign.

“We are saying at High Court, [Please just do a proper EIA (environmental impact assessment)]

“They (wetlands) are basically the kidneys of the planet. So our concern is that once you have a road going through here, the knock-on effect for the whole of the Noordhoek wetland will be enormous, especially for residents that are at ground level, like Masi residents. The chances of flooding are going to be much higher when you’ve got a road with a hard surface that’s going to allow the water to come off that road and flood during the winter.

“There really is one fatal flaw in the EIA, and that is that they did not do an amphibian study,” she said.

One of the group’s key reasons for opposing the road construction is that the wetland, which has three ponds, is the breeding ground for the endangered western leopard toad.

A male and a female Western leopard toad. Picture: Tracey Adams / IOL News

If the proposed road goes ahead, it will cut through the wetland and run alongside three ponds, which play an integral role in the leopard toad’s life cycle. These critters spend eleven months of the year in residents gardens, but during their breeding season, usually from late July to September, the toads walk towards freshwater ponds, which are their breeding sites.

This will place them in direct danger of being run over by motor vehicles, which is the biggest urban threat to the species.

Howard Mbana is a community leader and pastor in Masiphumelele. Picture: Tracey Adams / IOL News

Noordhoek resident Tanya Steel said, “The road shouldn’t happen, and the wetlands should be protected because there are a lot of species, not just the toads that live there, and (they) will all be impacted environmentally, and you should leave what is good enough alone.”

Howard Mbana, a community leader and pastor in Masiphumelele, said, “Flooding is always the case in the Western Cape. It is in the nature of the wetland, so water has to be there. Obviously it (the road) would be dangerous for the species (the western leopard toad). The engineers know exactly what to do (to protect the endangered western leopard toads).

“The extension of Houmoed Road will assist (with) the congestion of traffic on Kommetjie Road.

The proposed road will seriously threaten the survival of the Western leopard toad, a flagship species for biodiversity in the Noordhoek area. Picture: Tracey Adams / IOL News

“It will make things easier for those who drive through to Cape Town on a daily basis. The species they seem to be too worried about can be accommodated because, when these things are done, there is an environmental assessment process that takes place that has to consider everything.

“Whatever is associated with us is always associated with criminality. Their worry now is that as soon as we are able to access their territory, the criminality will increase,” Mbana said.

Signage on the streets warn motorists of the toads on the roads. Picture: Tracey Adams/ IOL News

In response to the protest of the road construction by NEAG, the City of Cape Town Committee Member for Urban Mobility, Councillor Rob Quintas said, “The city’s application regarding the proposed Houmoed road construction in Noordhoek was approved on appeal by Minister Bredell after his giving careful consideration to all the factors.

“It is that decision that NEAG has challenged in court, and the matter is due to be argued. Minister Bredell is defending his decision on appeal, which sanctions the city from constructing the said road on certain terms and conditions.

“These include: mitigations relating to rehabilitation of the wetland and the planting and rehabilitation of the road verges with indigenous species; detailed design of the road to avoid small animals and amphibians crossing the road surface and to guide them to safe passage under the road by means of catch fences and culverts; as well as the implementation of a management plan; and ongoing specialist monitoring of the efficacy of the mitigations.

“The city is of the view that these proposed road extensions are necessary and reasonable, especially for the safety and convenience of residents of Masiphumelele and for the purposes of alleviating chronic congestion in the area, and that environmental mitigatory measures can and will ensure a reasonable balance is achieved between the interests of residents in the area, and in particular the residents of Masiphumele who will most benefit from this road extension, and the affected natural environment, including the indigenous toad species.”