Tug-of-war over PHA rezoning

Nazeer Sonday addresses the media outside the Western Cape High Court on Monday October 15.

Farming poses more of a threat to the aquifer under the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) than development, the City of Cape Town told the Western Cape High Court last week.

The City is embroiled in a legal tussle with an activist group, the Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign, over approvals it and the provincial government granted that will allow a developer to build on land some have called Cape Town’s breadbasket.

At stake are 472 hectares of vacant land in the south-eastern part of Philippi.

The developer, Oakland City, wants to build housing for 15 000 families, schools, shops, offices and factories on the land. City and Province have given it permission to go ahead.

But the PHA Food and Farming Campaign is arguing against rezoning the site for development, saying not only is the land arable and a key part of the PHA but building on it could threaten the aquifer under it.

Province gave environmental authorisation for the proposed development in 2016, and the City approved the rezoning and subdivision of Oakland City’s land in November 2016 and dismissed an appeal against the approval in June 2017.

Those decisions had imperilled the jobs of more than 6 000 farm workers, PHA Food and Farming Campaign
chairman, Nazeer Sonday, told reporters outside the court, on Monday October

Mr Sonday said the farmland was a livelihood for thousands and replenished the Cape Flats Aquifer beneath it. The aquifer provided water to farms and could also top up municipal water supplies in times of drought, he added. Development would stop stormwater run-off seeping into the aquifer and cause flooding, he warned.

Advocate Murray Bridgeman, for the campaign, told the court the PHA farmers were in favour of development but not on top of the aquifer.

He also argued that public participation around the development proposal had been inadequate.

On Tuesday October 15 and Wednesday October 16, Advocate Ron Paschke, for the City, argued the PHA Food and Farming Campaign’s arguments were based on myths.

Farming was polluting the aquifer – most notably with large quantities of fertiliser – and the proposed development site – land owned by Oakland City Development Company – was not even part of the PHA and had no significant agricultural value, he said. Furthermore, the City’s decisions had been consistent with the 2012 spatial framework, which had applied at the time.

The City had given special consideration to protecting the Cape Flats Aquifer and the proposed development would help to ease Cape Town’s housing crisis, he said.

Advocate Michael Janisch, for Oakland City Development, argued the dispute had dragged on for years, costing Oakland millions of rand in consulting fees and property rates. The company had spent more than R7 million over the years on security to prevent land invasions and crime on the site.

Mr Bridgeman argued the PHA farmers had not had enough money to challenge the issues when they had first surfaced in 2011.

In a statement on Tuesday, mayoral committee member for transport, Felicity Purchase, said the City had considered the developer’s application based on photographic evidence, which, she said, showed that at least since 1945 the land had not been used for farming. The land had also not been providing any farming-related jobs to the local community.

“We adopted a cautious approach, which requires the developer to submit a stormwater master plan and detailed stormwater plans for each precinct that will form part of the proposed development,” she said.

Mr Sonday fears that if this development goes ahead it will open the door for others.

“Every time politicians say they care about the PHA, they also seem to want to pave over a portion of it. We are saying: enough is enough. This is why we are now turning to the court. It is time we hold our politicians and decision-makers accountable for the impact of their decisions on our future.”

Judgment was reserved in court last Wednesday.