Cape Town - Environmental groups are struggling to have their input taken seriously in what they perceive as a flawed public participation process.
The process is constitutionally mandated and designed to allow the public to comment on and object to developmental projects undertaken by the government.
Recently the ToadNUTs organisation was opposed to the proposed extension of the Houmoed Road Phase1 application by the City of Cape Town Council.
The road would have cut through the Noordhoek wetland, threatening the existence of the endangered Western Leopard Toad.
The road will not be built any more after the city council concluded that the existing roads in the area were sufficient to carry the traffic.
ToadNUTs co-founder Alison Faraday said as the resident experts on the state of the toads, their expertise was not solicited and the appointed environmental assessment practitioner, Chand, did not ask for input either.
“Only once the first basic assessment report was submitted and they went through our objections did they ask to meet with us.
“This speaks to a high-handed disregard for local knowledge and input.
“Although the fate of the Western Leopard Toad hangs in the balance, an amphibian study was not done nor was an amphibian specialist appointed.
“We have asked for this at every stage of the public participation process and it has not been done,” said Faraday.
Department spokesperson Rudolf van Jaarsveldt said there was no collusion between the city council, Chand or the department.
“Based on the nature of this project, additional authorities were also consulted as part of the public participation process and in this case, they were CapeNature, SANparks, national Department of Water and Sanitation, and the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works.”
Centre for Environmental Rights attorney Nicole Loser said the public participation process very seldom results in changes to a proposed project or a decision to withdraw a project altogether.
“One of the primary concerns with the public participation process under environmental legislation is that very limited time is given for proper consideration and comment on what are generally very technical and lengthy documents.
“It is often very difficult to understand the level of technical detail in environmental impact assessment documents or to be able to read records of thousands of pages,” she said.
Civic Action for Public Participation is an organisation exploring the possibility of writing a proposal for a new by-law on public participation.
Andrea Couvert said: “Our activities was prompted by our consistent previous experiences of being frustrated in our engagements with local government.”