The Princess Vlei Forum would like to respond to MEC Anton Bredell’s statement (quoted by Peter Luhanga in the West Cape News, 30/09/12) that the City “made a mistake” when it approved the shopping mall development on Princess Vlei in 2002 .
We would firstly like to hail this acknowledgement as a victory for democracy. We are confident that it is only the unflagging determination by concerned citizens to protect this valuable heritage has persuaded the Minister to acknowledge this error of judgement. We trust that this is the first step in reversing the decision to support the mall development bid.
However, we do have a number of queries and concerns:
- MEC Bredell vigorously defended his decision to overturn the recommendation by SPELUM that the rezoning of the property not be extended. This effectively reactivated the development bid, which had been scuppered by SPELUM’s decision. If he felt it was a mistake, why did he do this? If his thinking has shifted, what has caused him to change his mind?
- With reference to the following comment quoted in the article: “Bredell indicated the only way out for the City now was to either swap the land at Princess Vlei, which it still owned, with the company Insight Developers, or buy them out.”
- What legal and/or financial obligations does the City have to developer, considering that the land has yet to be sold, needs to go through a public participation before being sold, and needs to be sold on the open market? We have been trying without success to obtain clarity on this point.
- The development bid was made by Insight Property Developers(Cape), which was deregistered on 16 July 2010. It appears that the dealings are now with Insight Property Developers (Palmyra Rd), which has a different tax number and registration number. Since the original development agreement was made with a company that no longer exists, why should the City have any obligations to it, or to Insight Developers (Palmyra Rd) which is an entirely separate company?
- Thirdly, any contract made with the company was done subject to the company meeting various conditions, including a favourable EIA report. Evidence uncovered by PVF member Kelvin Cochrane now suggests that this report may have been fraudulently obtained, as board members on the company doing the EIA (Tshukudu Environmental Services) were also on the board of the development bid company. Why would any contract made on this basis be legally binding?
- Finally, if this contract is binding, why did the City enter into a binding contract on an unsolicited bid to sell publicly owned land? This does not sound like good local government practice. Surely if the City wished to develop the land, it should have put the tender out to public bidding.
We would like to note that members of the City Council have consistently expressed unhappiness with this development bid, as demonstrated by SPELUM’s refusal to extend the rezoning. SPELUM made this call after reviewing the bid in the light of evidence brought by concerned residents, which highlighted the rich cultural, historical and environmental value of Princess Vlei.
SPELUM’s response was an instance of local government doing its job: ie. taking into account the views of the public and making a decision for the greater good. It is most regrettable that this decision was then overturned by MEC Bredell. We hope that the recent decision by Mayor De Lille to limit the powers of SPELUM it is not an indication that the local government will be less transparent, responsive and accountable on planning decisions in the future.
We believe that the gains made by the campaign to save Princess Vlei, and the irregularities uncovered by Cochrane, demonstrate the need for and power of a vigorous civil society to monitor the decisions of our public officials, ensure that they are responsive to the needs of our citizens, and ensure that they are fully transparent and accountable as they so often claim to be.
We eagerly await a full and thorough investigation of these irregularities and trust that the City Council will be more transparent and accountable in its dealing of this matter than has been the case up to now.
The Princess Vlei Forum, and the rehabilitation project Dressing the Princess, have enjoyed a collaborative relationship with relevant branches of Local Government, in particular in the Biodiversity Management Branch and Parks and Forestry. We are confident that the development bid will be defeated, and look forward to continuing this partnership to develop Princess Vlei in a culturally and environmentally appropriate and sensitive manner.