An aerial view of The River Club. File picture: Andrew Ingram
An aerial view of The River Club. File picture: Andrew Ingram

Economy, environment and First Nations to benefit from River Club development

By Opinion Time of article published Nov 2, 2020

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Jody Aufrichtig

In September, after a five-year development approval process, both the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government gave the green light for the redevelopment of River Club site in Observatory, Cape Town.

This was a comprehensive, open and transparent process that included extensive public engagements with all interested and affected parties as well as detailed and independent analyses of heritage and environment considerations at the site.

Contrary to what is stated in the article “Can Bezos stop city project?” (IOL, 01 November 2020), these processes resulted in a development plan that will see the conversion of the current underutilized private golf driving range, with limited public benefit, into a sustainable, inclusive and publicly accessible space for all Capetonians to enjoy. It will also create thousands of job opportunities and attract international investment, as our country focuses on recovering from the devastating impact of the Covid-19 national lockdown.

While the article states that only one third of the site will be open space, this is not true. In fact, nearly 60% of the site, or 8.4 hectares, will be publicly accessible open areas - the equivalent of 13 soccer fields. This will include 6km of safe running and cycling pathways for the enjoyment of surrounding communities and visitors.

Furthermore, the allegations regarding a decline in biodiversity are also unfounded as R50 million will be spent on the environmental rehabilitation of the current degraded site. The proposal, which has been evaluated by a team of independent experts, is to naturalise the canalised course, thus restoring the ecological function of the river as an aquatic riverine environment and enhancing ecological connectivity to the Raapenberg Wetland. The current unlined water course, which is mistakenly referred to as the “river” by detractors, was in fact previously infilled and subsequently dredged, and so is hydraulically disconnected and provides limited ecological function currently.

The redevelopment will see the establishment of a terrestrial and aquatic transition area here, comprising wetland pools, wetland swales and, importantly, high quality terrestrial habitat for the Western Leopard Toad.

Concerns regarding the development not aligning with City of Cape Town Climate Change strategy are also unsubstantiated. An independent review of the project environmental basic impact assessment by carbon and climate change advisory firm Promethium Carbon has concluded that the rehabilitation of the Liesbeek River will improve stormwater drainage on the site and surrounding areas and will in fact improve the resilience of the area.

Furthermore, our cohesive development planning process also included appointing a team of independent heritage experts towards an understanding of the significance of the River Club site including to the First Nations, and identifying indigenous intangible cultural heritage specific to the location.

This process included engagements with the First Nations Chiefs of the traditional custodians of the area (the Gorinhaiqua), and different groups who traversed the area, who have called themselves the First Nations Collective. Members of the Collective include the Gorinhaiqua, Gorachouqua, Cochoqua, the Griqua Royal Council, the San Traditional Royal House, and the National Khoi and San Council. While the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council originally participated in these discussions, they decided to withdraw when it came to the implementation of the First Nation aspirational memorial interventions and incorporation of the indigenous narrative of the San and Khoi heritage into the planning and development of the River Club - despite repeated invitations and requests.

This has resulted in the First Nations Collective expressing their full and unequivocal support for the redevelopment. The project will include the creation of a Heritage Cultural and Media Centre. The centre will be operated by the First Nations and will provide job opportunities to members of these communities. The project will also include an indigenous medicinal garden, Heritage-Eco trail and garden amphitheatre for use by the First Nations and the general public.

Furthermore, in recognition of the injustice of apartheid-era spatial planning, 20% of the residential component of this private development will be dedicated to developer-subsidised inclusionary housing. The 6000m² of inclusionary housing rental stock will also be fully integrated into the open market residential component of the development. This will allow key workers delivering essential services to surrounding communities an opportunity to live close to where they work.

This project will create 5 239 jobs at a total value of R1.6 billion, and an additional 13 700 indirect and induced jobs during the construction phase alone. Once complete, the development will employ 860 people with an estimated wage bill of R200 million per annum. This excludes the jobs that will be created by the tenants who will occupy the offices, school, residential and retail spaces in the development. With more than 2.2 million jobs being lost as a result of the Covid-19 national lockdown, every job created during these fraught times should be supported.

We have always approached this project with maximum transparency and steadfast commitment to all planning approval processes as required by law and to achieve a regeneration project that does not only benefit a few residents’ self-interests. It is regrettable that a small group of people who claim to speak for the working class and first nations, are trying to block this project that will contribute towards spatial justice and the conversion of a private golf course and rehabilitation of its degraded surrounds.

We remain focused on delivering a sustainable and inclusive development that celebrates our province’s rich history and heritage and presents many exciting socio economic opportunities for the people of the Western Cape.

* Jody Aufrichtig is a Trustee and Spokesperson for the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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