Hearing trees being cut down in a small cul-de-sac in Constantia, neighbours raised the alarm as the chainsaws closed in on an oak tree on the pavement.
The trees were being felled at Woodhouse in Ringwood Close, off Southern Cross Drive, once home to the late Judy Smuts. She loved her garden and would open it annually for charity fund-raisers. The garden has also featured in décor magazines, locally and abroad, and in films.
On Wednesday February 3, neighbours and members of TreeKeepers Cindy Montandon, Tirzah Webb and Angie Wain counted about 18 tree stumps among the remnants of the rose garden and gazebo at Woodhouse.
Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said the original land had been subdivided into three portions.
The existing house holds heritage status as it is older than 60 years and subject to the general protection under Section 34 of the National Heritage Resources Act, Act 25 of 1999. This only protects man-made structures, so trees are not included.
Acting chief executive officer of Heritage Western Cape (HWC), Colette Scheermeyer, confirmed that the house had protection under the National Heritage Resources Act but not the trees removed from the garden. “The only mandate HWC would have is under Section 34 if the owners wish to alter or demolish the existing structure.”
The trees were removed by Peninsula Tree Fellers. A man from the company, who would only identify himself as Roy, said one limb had been cut from the oak tree to make way for trucks to enter and exit the property and that other trees would replace those that had been felled. According to another contractor the Bulletin spoke to, the felled trees had all been exotic water guzzlers.
Ms Nieuwoudt said the City’s recreation and parks department had agreed to the removal of one limb from the oak tree at the entrance under the department’s supervision. She said they were unaware that it had already taken place.
Ms Nieuwoudt said City planning authorities were waiting for the building application to be amended to show a new access point and internal layout.
Ms Smuts’s daughter, Sandy Smuts-Bain, said Nedbank owned the property and she could not comment, “as it is a delicate issue and not in our best interests as we want to avoid court battles over our family home”. Nedbank did not respond to phone calls or emails.
Bob Rowand said he would be the new owner once the estate had been finalised. Two homes would be built on the land and the plan included landscaping with about 40 indigenous trees, he said.
Clare Burgess, the chairwoman of TreeKeepers Cape Town and a professional landscape architect, said the City’s densification plans should be offset against the needs of mature trees in the urban forest as they provided oxygen, cleaned pollutants from the air and benefited property values.
“The City’s densification needs require a far more sensitive approach where trees are seen as having both economic and environmental value, and selected specimens should be retained in development rather than being removed,” said Ms Burgess.
Ms Nieuwoudt said trees had varying degrees of protection across the metro. Champion trees, including all those in Claremont’s Arderne Gardens, were on a national register. Milkwoods and yellowwoods were protected by the National Forest Act, and permits were needed to trim, prune, remove, or relocate them.
Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, said a recent tree inventory showed that Cape Town’s tree canopy cover was lower than optimal, relative to other cities.
“We need to increase this,” he said. “Residents play a crucial role in assisting us with this effort.”