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Developers versus Plettenberg Bay

12 March 2014, 13:51

Update from the Save Plett Alliance...

Proposed Plett Harbour Development “Blatantly Contravenes” the Integrated Coastal Management Act but the end not yet in sight …

Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (ENS) – Africa’s largest law firm – has submitted damning comments on the Final Scoping Report for a proposed harbour and landside development in Plettenberg Bay, and requested that the entire proposal be rejected.

The firm represents the Save Plett Alliance and other stakeholders opposed to the Development, and made an extensive submission on their behalf to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning of the Western Cape.

The Department should indicate by the end of March or, failing that, by the end of May, whether it –

a) completely rejects the proposal, as requested by ENS
b) approves the proposal without amendments, which seems very unlikely, or
c) requests the Developer to make amendments to the proposal.

In another development Dr Mike Cohen of CEN IEM Unit, the consultancy used by the Developer, resigned from the project with scant explanation for his drastic action.

It is important for all stakeholders to realise that neither the ENS comments nor the resignation of Dr Cohen means that the Developer has given up on the proposed project. On the contrary, he still seems absolutely determined to go ahead, and will probably just appoint another consultancy firm, as indicated by Dr Cohen himself.

Let us look closer at the main points raised by ENS:

1. The Integrated Coastal Management Act does not allow any such development.
2. There is no need for a fishing harbour since there is no fishing fleet.
3. The developer will not be able to sell any of the land since it is inalienable state land.
4. There is no indication that there is any market demand for such a development.
5. It will deprive the public of an important public space.
6. There is no indication of where a water supply for the project could be sourced, and the Development will displace the current desalination plant.
7. A survey of more than 6 000 members of the public of all races and income groups has so far shown 99.7% of people opposed to the Development.
8. A YES campaign in favour of the Development in the townships may have been compromised by a leading person in the YES campaign, who tried to sell NO votes to the Save Plett Alliance for R2 a head.

A short discussion of the ENS report follows:

The National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act, No. 24 of 2008 (NEMICMA) does not permit any developments in the coastal protection zone unless such development provides a public service or cannot be developed elsewhere – two conditions that clearly do not apply in this instance.

NEMICMA was not law at the time the Piesang River Estuary was put forward as the preferred site but the Development would now be so blatantly in contravention of NEMICMA that for the Department and the Bitou municipality to spend any more time on the issue would simply be a distraction to government institutions with other important tasks like service delivery.

The relevant properties fall within the definition of a protected coastal zone as it is situated less than 100 metres from the high-water mark and the likelihood is that it will be inundated by a 1:50 year flood or storm event.
An expert, Dr Brian Allanson, appointed by the developer himself, agrees that no development should take place in the Piesang River Estuary.
The ENS reports states that in view of recent climate change reports and the fact that the Plettenberg Bay area is vulnerable to flooding and storm surges, the Development will pose a hazard and health risk to the public.
The proposed Development is also in clear contravention of the Western Cape Spatial Development Framework as well as the Bitou Municipality Spatial Development Framework.

ENS points out that the reason why the developer was initially given the opportunity some 15 years ago to investigate the harbour was the needs of the fishing industry, which no longer exists in Plettenberg Bay, so no such harbour is needed any more. Only 1% of the boat moorings planned in the harbour will be for chokka boats, showing that a fishing harbour is no longer required.

The Sea-Shore Act, 21 of 1936, provides that the sea-shore and the sea may not be alienated unless the action is in the general public interest. In this case the Development will mostly serve the interest of an elite few while depriving the general public of 100% of the safe swimming part of Central beach and the entire Piesang River Estuary. Central Beach and its surrounding picnicking areas are used recreationally by all sectors of the public all year round, and for special events such as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations. It provides safe swimming and access by public transport.

Whilst it may be possible for the State to transfer land to the Bitou municipality, the municipality may not transfer the land on to a private party, so the proposed apartments could not be sold and would have to be leased.

A financial viability study of the Development has not yet been done. ENS maintains that all the projected forecasts and profits set out in the developer’s existing Economic Report are meaningless unless a large extra market exists for apartments, hotel beds, retail space etc. The developer’s own consultant agrees with this conclusion.

Bitou municipality falls in a water stressed area. The Development will put extra strain on both water supply and sanitation. No study has been done of whether there will be enough water to cater for low and middle income housing currently being planned in addition to the Development.

No provision is made for the cost of up to R40million involved in moving the current desalination plant, erected in a recent period of extreme water scarcity.

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