What’s the greenest way to invest in Hilton’s future?

2011-10-19 00:00

IMAGINE the midlands N3 corridor between Hilton and Howick as a Midrand, a rolling sea of concrete walls, tin roofs and glass. Last month the Record of Decision by the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs gives environmental authorisation with conditions to Mondi to sell its three Hilton properties, bet­ween Grace College and Garlington, on both sides of the N3 between the Hilton and Cedara offramps, and opposite Cowan House, to the developer, Laurusco Developments for the purpose of major construction.

This planning decision needs to be urgently reconsidered so that the gateway to the midlands can maintain its potential for successful investment and development in the green eco-nomy that is being negotiated at Cop17. The Hilton Rate Payers’ Association and other registered interested and affected parties have until today to notify G. Whilie-Smith at DAEA Environmental Services, (fax: 034 299 9674) of their reasons to appeal the decision.

Various plans by Laurusco Developments for constructing a regional shopping mall as large as the initial size of the Liberty Midlands Mall, for high- end office parks and gated communities, and for dense simplex complexes opposite Cowan House are unsustainable in the long term because they do not take into account the lack of bulk sewage infrastructure in Hilton or the impracticality of locating large-scale commercial centres and dense housing estates along this escarpment, which has one of South Africa’s highest rates of mist-related road accidents. The long-term profitability to Mondi of this land for creating carbon-trading opportunities has also not been mentioned in the Record of Decision, which requires alternative land uses for every application to be considered.

Mistbelt grassland is South Africa’s second most biodiverse ecosystem after the Cape fynbos and has massive carbon-farming potential because of the hundreds of carbon-storing bulbous plant species that it supports. Midlands’ grasslands, rainforest patches and wetlands also create an effective filter for supplying potable water to the coastal areas and play no small role in cooling our climate locally, nationally and globally.

The problems that KZN is facing in regard to water quality in the lower catchments of most of our provincial rivers are well documented. It should also not be forgotten that mistbelt grasslands have been 97% transformed over the past 40 years by companies, including Mondi. With this in mind, anyone who uses paper, including the multinationals that make it, share a moral obligation to invest in projects that protect and restore mistbelt grassland habitats.

For these reasons, the priceless value of our midlands’ biodiversity for the future, in a rapidly desertifying subcontinent, can be overlooked at our peril, or invested in for long-term sustainability.

Mondi and its business partners should do the long term mathematics and the triple bottom line accounting, and invest this beautiful misty gateway to the midlands in carbon trading and ecotourism opportunities as envisaged by the signatories of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Mondi land around Hilton could easily become a network of biking and walking trails through restored mistbelt grasslands and forests and intense wildflower farming projects which all create many new jobs, welcome tourists, restore to the veld thousands of bulbs, and preserve Hilton’s sense of place through good old-fashioned commons. The fact that protecting and restoring midlands’ grasslands will net huge interest and capital from local and international companies desperate to offset their carbon footprints, is the greenest way to invest in Hilton’s future.

• Allen Goddard is Director for Theology and Citizenship, A Rocha, South Africa


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