NEWS | CAPE TOWN 

Cape Town residents concerned about “development at all costs” approach

Mayor dismisses accusations

Graphic of proposed Bo-Kaap development
An architect’s impression of the controversial 60m high apartment and retail building on the edge of Bo-Kaap (in red) which could set a precedent for other massive buildings to follow (in grey). Image courtesy of Rick Brown & Associates
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From across Cape Town residents expressed concern at a meeting last week that the City, particularly Mayor Patricia de Lille, is taking a “development at all costs” approach with little regard for public sentiment and sometimes the City’s own policies.

But the mayor has dismissed most of their accusations as “lies”, adding “bring on the evidence”. In an emailed response to questions, she uses this phrase, or variations of it, six times in response to eight questions.

The meeting on 15 February, organised by the Development Action Group (DAG), emerged out of research by the organisation’s Ryan Fester, who interviewed communities about 18 controversial development proposals ranging from the Cape Flats to the Atlantic seaboard, including the Two Rivers Urban Park, the R1bn retail and housing development in Bo-Kaap and housing development proposals in the Philippi Horticultural Area.

Fester told the meeting that a common theme had emerged of “an inconsiderate city”.

“Inconsiderate of heritage, inconsiderate of the environment, inconsiderate of people’s opinions. It was a case of development at all costs,” Fester said.

It was claimed at the meeting that the mayor had given an instruction to city officials that they were not to raise objections to development applications submitted to the city.

De Lille dismissed this claim: “This is a lie. Bring the evidence.”

Several people at the meeting criticised the mayor for “riding roughshod” over public opposition to controversial developments, and said the public participation process had become simply a “tick-box” exercise with no real concern for people, culture, the environment or heritage.

De responded: “This is untrue. Bring in the evidence.”

Bruce Smith, vice chair of the Kommetjie Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (KRRA) said at the meeting the principles contained in city council policies such as the spatial development framework and the urban edge policy often appeared to be “of no consequence” when the city approved a development application.

“You see the huge quantity of specialist reports that accompany an application. They are probably not even read. The city planners’ recommendations are usually less than a page. You see 70 to 100 objections from small communities. It doesn’t seem to matter,” Smith said.

Osman Shaboodien, chair of the Bo-Kaap Civic Association, was unable to attend the meeting as he was in discussion with attorneys about the possibility of taking the City to court over its approval of the controversial R1bn apartment and retail building to which 1,000 people objected as being inappropriate for the Bo-Kaap. It was approved and the subsequent appeal by residents was turned down.

Speaking before the meeting Shaboodien said: “We believe the process is biased. How can a mayor who says: ‘We encourage development’ then be the judge over an appeal to a development she is encouraging?”

He believed the municipal planning tribunal, which made decisions on development applications, was biased as people who had worked for developers were on the tribunal. “So the basics of neutrality is not there,” Shaboodien said.

Asked for comment De Lille said: “This is a lie, bring the evidence. The municipal planning tribunal is an independent body established according to the SPLUMA Act of Parliament.” (SPLUMA is the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act of 2013.)

Patrick Dowling, chair of the KRRA, believes the city council had gone too far in institutionalizing – informally – a development-at-all-costs attitude.

Dowling said De Lille had given an undertaking that there would be no more development in the peninsula’s far south until new infrastructure had been put in place, particularly to deal with increased traffic. Since then, the City had approved development applications for almost 400 new housing units in the Kommetjie area. There are 850 existing houses in Kommetjie.

“So collectively the developments are adding half a village to Kommetjie. That is not organic growth. The city has all these processes and policies but they bend the rules at will. It is time for civil society to say: ‘Enough’,” Dowling said.

Asked to comment on the reversal of her undertaking, De Lille said: “The city’s planning department undertakes due diligence on every application.”

Claims were made at the meeting that the mayor, who makes the final decision on appeals from parties who object to development approvals, overrode important technical information contained in appeals’ submissions when arriving at her decision.

“Lies. Bring the evidence,” was De Lille’s response.

Dowling said while the City had good policies, many people questioned how much attention it paid to them when considering development applications.

“It seems to be a case of: ‘This is the real world and you can to take us to court if you don’t like it.’ And if poorer groups can’t raise the money, it’s tough.”

Letters

Dear Editor

Densification with no thought. No water planning, no sewerage planning, no traffic planning, roads already gridlocked. Pandering to developers, who have only one thought in mind, money, certainly no concern for aesthetics or concern for people. Cape Town has been there before, with a previous bad administrator, who allowed the three tower blocks on The Mountain, the Garden Centre, huge blocks of flats in Camps bay, one in Muizenberg. It should be stopped.

Dear Editor

I must respectfully disagree with the views expressed in Frances's letter. Frances appears to favour a 'no development at all costs' approach which is just as unhelpful as the developer-beholden approach of which the City is being accused.

The city needs more residents in its inner city. This has been demonstrated in numerous studies which show how inefficient the city's spatial patterns are (with too many people having to drive into the city every day). I would love to know whether Frances lives in the City Bowl. If the Gardens Centre was not there, where would the majority of its residents shop? New development must be allowed, but only if sensitive to the immediate vicinity and on the basis that proper urban design principles are followed.

Dear Editor

The City of Cape Town was always going to dismiss the residents' appeals. They were always going to bend over backwards to get a taste of all those developers' billions. The City does not care about working class communities and families. Their solution to growing incidents of crime and lapsing infrastructure is to speed up gentrification - because the City does not value the quality of life of ordinary people unless they are bringing millions of rands worth of business into the city. What is the point of the Bo-Kaap's Heritage status when the City disregards it so callously? Their brazen pursuit of money is short-sighted and at the expense of the people who have made the Bo-Kaap the close-knit and unique community it is today. The City is purposefully dismantling this community for profit. It's appalling.

Dear Editor

With the go-ahead given for the development of two huge blocks of flats and offices on the borders of the Bo-Kaap (Strand and Buitengracht Streets), the already overloaded streets of the Bo-Kaap are set to become an even worse nightmare for the people who live there. As it is, the area is used as free parking for people who work or study in the city centre, and Chiappini and Rose Streets are used to avoid the gridlock traffic on Buitengracht. With an additional 17 and 19 storey buildings, whose tenants and residents need to get in and out of their buildings, Bo-Kaap's roads will take a serious knock. These are not roads built for heavy traffic – they are narrow streets that run almost up to the front doors of the homes on them.

The city council is happy to promote the Bo-Kaap as a tourist attraction, and happy to benefit from the visitors' spending power, but has proven itself unwilling to protect the area and its residents.

It would seem that it's all good and well for the Bo-Kaap to absorb the increasing volume of traffic, to provide free parking that clog up the narrow streets, to smile and wave at tourists, as long as it doesn't voice its disapproval of developments within its borders.

Dear Editor

I read the article, 'Cape Town residents concerned about “development at all costs” approach', with interest.

Ms De Lille asked for proof of lies and the lack of due process by the City PBDM. Most people are too scared to bring proof because they will end up like me with a death threat, needing protection and an interim protection order against a City building inspector for speaking out. The officials and DA councillors are afraid that they will be moved or will lose their jobs if they dare to speak out.

Ms De Lille threatens to sue an elderly professor, an architect held in high regard, who has given his life to keeping Cape Town unique, whilst the developers' greed destroys it with impunity. How can one threaten to sue an elderly professor for simply telling the truth? How can one not look around you and see what is happening to our environment and landscape? It truly makes me weep.

People are frightened of you, Ms De Lille. Scared, terrified because you have all the power and the money (read: ratepayers money) to sue them instead of listening.

The City officials tell lies in the High Court, Ms De Lille. Of that, I have proof and have asked you to look at my proof many times. Your officials are bullies and do not follow due process diligently. Of that, again, I have proof and have asked you to give me a mere 15 mins of your time but you don't even answer my emails.

Please, Ms De Lille. I lay down my gauntlet and ask you for 15 mins of your time to consider the possibility that you might, in fact, be wrong.

Tony Ehrenreicht was kind enough to give me an hour of his precious time because he cared about the workers, your people, that the City are poisoning for not following due process and the asbestos regulations.

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply"

I will bring you your proof Ms De Lille and then you may listen with the intent to understand.

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