Bredell must decide on future of city’s food hub

The Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign has vowed to protect the area against plans by developers to “degrade it” FILE PIC: David Ritchie

The Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign has vowed to protect the area against plans by developers to “degrade it” FILE PIC: David Ritchie

Published Nov 6, 2022

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As world leaders gather at COP27 to tackle the global challenge of climate change, Western Cape MEC for Local Government and Environmental Affairs Anton Bredell faces critical decisions on the future of the city's food hub.

Developers of the controversial Oakland City located in the Philippi horticultural area are scheduled to submit a new environmental impact assessment to Bredell on tomorrow seeking approval for building more than 40 000 houses on land 10 times the size of Century City.

And Bredell will be required to decide whether to give the development the go-ahead.

Philippi Horticultural Food and Farming Campaign member Nazeer Sonday said Bredell’s decision would have major implications.

"Bredell has to decide whether he supports the development that threatens to ruin the food basket of the City or agrees with climate science and food security.“

Nazeer Sonday, chairperson of the Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign; Susanna Colman, a volunteer with the campaign; and attorney Glyn Williams at a press conference to protect the horticultural area. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA

If Bredell approves the assessment, this would give the developers the right to develop the land, and the campaign would be forced to seek a legal remedy in court.

In a bid to preserve the horticultural area as a "breadbasket" for the city, the campaign instituted court action challenging the approval of the Oakland City development by the City and the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs in terms of an earlier environmental assessment.

In February 2020, the Western Cape High Court ordered the developers to conduct a new assessment showing the impact of the 500-hectare development on climate change, the Cape Flats aquifer, and water scarcity in the horticultural area.

In her judgment, Judge Kate Savage said the City and the provincial government had not given due consideration to the impact on water and climate change as a result of some of the decisions about Oakland City.

The impact should have affected Bredell’s approval of large parts of the horticultural area for urban development.

Earlier court papers showed that the Oakland City development company was controlled by collective investment schemes which belonged to several trade unions’ pension funds.

However, the company was placed under curatorship after financial challenges.

Sonday said: "With the new EIA we are now back again in the process of fending off any harm to the farmland, which even during the drought that hit many farmers managed to produce food. The development will also affect the infrastructure in the PHA.“

"By leaving the land fallow for the last 12 years, the developer has prevented at least 1 billion tons of vegetables from being grown, 1 500 and 15 000 indirect jobs, and other opportunities for land reform," added campaign volunteer Susanna Coleman.

The campaigners said that between 2015 and 2022 climate-change science had been cemented across the world following an increase in climate-change events.

However, the horticultural area had shown itself to be a centre for "climate-change resilience", they said.

The campaigners said there were other issues at stake that Bredell would also have to apply his mind to. These included the fact that food supply was in a precarious state, and land speculators with an interest in the outcome would "pave over" the land if the outcome was in their favour.

"There's a sand mine proposed for the north of the PHA. How much can you take away before the PHA collapses?“ asked Coleman.

Bredell, along with former MEC for Agriculture and now Premier Alan Winde, were part of a provincial cabinet decision that commissioned a study into the agricultural value of the horticultural area.

The 2018 study by Indego Consulting found that the horticultural area was an urban asset that contributed to the city's water resilience, inclusivity, food security, and sustainability.

The study also found that the encroachment on the horticultural area of industrial, informal and residential land use increased the risk of aquifer contamination and decreased the available recharge area.

As early as 2009, the national Department of Agriculture decided not to grant approval for the Oakland City development land to be rezoned from horticultural to urban development use.

In 2012, the department reiterated its decision.

Sonday said the campaign had provided input into the new environmental assessment, as it had not addressed climate change and other land-related issues.

"Colonialism resulted in indigenous people being removed from their land and contributed to poverty, hunger and unemployment. The land for the proposed Oakland City development could be used for restitution."

A lawyer for the campaign, Glynn Williams, feared Bredell’s decision would be a box-ticking exercise.

“One of the dangers we are faced with is that politicians make decisions that scientists should make.

“But if the decision is to grant the developers the right to go ahead, we will seek a remedy in court,” he said.