Tribunal nod for Hilton proposal

2013-02-12 00:00

THE Hilton-Mondi development proposal by Lauresco Developments has been given the green light in a ruling by the KwaZulu-Natal Planning and Development Appeals Tribunal.

This follows objections to the uMngeni Municipality’s approval of the development, which were heard by the tribunal two weeks ago.

The proposal involves the development of five separate sites spread over 80 hectares, four of them located around the Hilton and Cedara N3 interchanges. Developments proposed for the project included warehousing, light industrial estates, a business park, a shopping centre and residential housing.

The light industrial component was rejected in a record of decision from the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs (DAEA), which, however, said this component could be developed as a business park. However, this was rejected by the uMngeni Municipality, which conditionally approved the development last May.

The developer appealed the municipality’s decision and the tribunal upheld its appeal, ruling it be allowed to develop a business park as per the DAEA decision.

Among those appealing the municipality’s approval were the Hilton Ratepayers’ Association, Wedgewood Estate, Winterskloof Conservancy, the Mkondeni-Mpushini Trust, the Garlington Development Trust and the Garlington Homeowners’ Association.

Lawyer Jeremy Ridl, who represented a number of the appellants, said that only when the reasons behind the ruling were released in a month’s time would it be possible to comment fully.

Ridl said one of the main concerns of those opposed to the development had been that the “character of Hilton as we know it will be lost forever”.

However, in the ruling, the tribunal states that in order to “ensure that the landscape character and ambiance of the area is not drastically altered and to ensure that there is a uniform theme for the proposed development, the developer shall establish an independent architectural review committee composed of two independent architects; two representatives of the local residents’ organisations and one person representing the biodiversity sector”.

Ridl says the ruling does not elaborate on the powers of the committee, “but if it is independent and can say ‘nay’ or ‘yea’ to plans, then it looks very positive for Hilton residents”.

Nora Choveaux, representing the Mkondeni-Mpushini Trust, expressed concern that “by dismissing all the appeals lodged by a number of organisations representing the Hilton community, the trend of overriding the interests and voice of affected communities continues”.

“Planning should reflect the wishes of the majority in the community. From the strong outcry by the community against a development which was touted to ‘buy into the brand of Hilton’, this proposal did not find favour. Having raised legitimate concerns about the change in land use, the ruling of the tribunal disempowers the community.”

Paul Walters of Wedgewood said the ruling “was pretty much as we expected — but that’s not to say we are not disappointed”.

“The project has been developer-driven rather than need- and desirability-driven.”

Walters was still worried that wetlands on and adjacent to his property would be contaminated by sewage when a sewage pump station was constructed as a part of the development. He said he was pleased that the municipality had a back-up plan if things went wrong, “but given the track record of the municipality managing sewage — as in Mpophomeni — I’m not that confident.”

Walters was also concerned that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) was a desktop assessment. “It just scr-atched the surface,” he said. “No one visited our site to assess its biodiversity value.”

The reasons for the decisions of the appeal tribunal are expected to be made public on or before March 4.

• feature1@witness.co.za

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