Victory for farmlands

Activists have hailed the dismissal of an application to rezone prime Philippi farmland as a victory, but the campaign to save the City’s breadbasket from urban sprawl is far from over.

On Friday February 24, Heritage Western Cape (HWC) dismissed a second appeal by the developer, Uvest Property Group, which had applied to rezone 96ha in the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) in the heart of the Cape Flats (“Saving breadbasket,” Bulletin February 16) and (“Picket tackles MEC on farmland threat,” Bulletin February 23).

Philippi farmer and head of the PHA Food & Farming Campaign, Nazeer Sonday, said this was a portion of the smaller development proposed for the PHA; the other being a 472.36ha housing development called Oakland City.

The 3 000ha PHA is the highest producing vegetable area per hectare in the country providing 80 percent, 200 000 tons, of the City’s veggies, according to Mr Sonday.

It is also a major recharge area for the 635km2 Cape Flats Aquifer, which has the potential to provide 30 percent of the city’s potable water.

The issue was heard by an independent appeals tribunal, which unanimously upheld the HWC’s decision to support the dismissal of the appeal.

The tribunal found that: “In weighing up the socio-economic benefits of a future development against protection of the PHA as a heritage resource, it is clear at the visit on site, and from information gathered, that it is not in the interest of the people of Cape Town to develop the PHA.

“If any development of this fragile area is allowed, it will be the beginning of the end of protecting this cultural landscape in total, resulting in irreversible damage to all spheres of life and especially for the people living in its close proximity.”

The tribunal also noted that approving the requested rezoning was likely to be used as a precedent for allowing future rezoning applications.

“It’s known that land-use control must strike a balance between private property rights and the public interest. Conversion of farmland to urban development reduces the amount of land available for food production.

“Even more so in the case of the PHA. Food security is becoming an issue, and urban gardens are being promoted worldwide, of which Cape Town boasts seven well-known examples.

“It is essential that agricultural land within urban areas be protected and carefully guarded,” the tribunal found.

The Bulletin asked Uvest what it planned to do now, but the company did not respond.

The campaigners claim the City intends to buy the land and has asked for and been granted permission by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning to rezone it without an environmental impact assessment.

The Bulletin asked the City if it would declare the PHA a heritage resource or continue with plans to develop it. The response by Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, clearly left the door open on the development option. He said different laws and criteria shaped the City’s assessment of the rezoning application. The HWC ruling, he said, related to the heritage impact, while the City was assessing Uvest’s rezoning application in terms of the Land Use Planning Ordinance, and it had not made a final decision on that application yet.

The Bulletin asked Environment Affairs and Development Planning MEC, Anton Bredell, and MEC of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde, if they would support the tribunal by calling for the protection and management of the PHA and the Cape Flats Aquifer. Mr Bredell did not respond, while Mr Winde’s reply was far from an unambiguous “yes”.

“Ours is one voice in a greater debate on what is the best outcome for our people, our economy and jobs, and for our environment, and the process must reveal the correct way forward.

“We stand by the rigorous process and will accept the outcome,” he said. “The Economic Development Partnership (EDP) has received the mandate from the City of Cape Town to lead the development of a shared vision for Philippi to maximise the region’s economic potential. As part of this process, a range of stakeholders, including the Department of Agriculture, are being consulted.”

– Additional reporting by the Cape Times.