By Murphy Nganga 7h ago
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CAPE TOWN – Plans to build a development along the edge of the Garden Route Dam are being met with great opposition from residents and environmentalists as they believe that it will not only have a detrimental effect on the environment, but also the community.
The proposal for development along the dam will include building waterfront housing, a commercial hub and a university complex.
Barbara Eckersley, who is a resident and an educator at a school that is close to the dam, said that the development will be a great loss for community members who had become accustomed to the recreational area.
“We have lived in George for 34 years and we have used the dam area extensively. We cycle and we hike there. Our very own children grew up around this area, and as an educator at Glenwood House, which is situated close to the dam, we’ve used the area to teach children about the environment and used the area as a recreational area to escape the harsh reality of the world.
“Having the development done in this area will be an enormous loss for us because it is a safe environment where we can go and unwind,” said Eckersley.
Garden Route Dam Action Group chairperson, Desireé du Preez, said that development would have a significant impact on the ecosystem, decreasing the value of the leisure experience for dam users, who now utilise the region as a sanctuary.
“The development would put the community under strain as more pressure will be added onto the potable water because it will block access across the dam wall to the forest on the eastern bank.
“This will also affect the climate which will be influenced by the increased population from the proposed development. The development would rather increase the impact of climate change on the community through deterioration of the potable water quality, requiring more and more intricate treatment processes. Additionally, at a local level, the increase in hardened surfaces would increase the ambient air temperature of the area, right next to the dam and this will increase evaporation from the dam,” said Du Preez.
Director of planning and development at George Municipality, Lauren Waring, said that the municipality was aware of the concerns raised in the petition and they had been recorded as part of the extensive public participation process that accompanied the application for the development of the land.
“The municipality awaits a decision from the Western Cape Department Environmental Affairs regarding the EIA linked to this application and can therefore not provide detailed response as the application remains pending,” she said.
“However, the intention is that all future users become custodians of the space and the site be managed by firm rules in terms of an Environmental Management Plan.”
“George Municipality agrees that the dam should remain accessible to citizens and believes that responsible, sustainable, mixed land use development will not only celebrate the qualities of this extraordinary site but also address some of the issues associated with large tracts of densely vegetated land,” said Waring.
In response to the municipality’s plans, environmental educator at The Landmark foundation, Monica Vaccaro, started a petition to bring attention to the forthcoming issues with this plan and shed light on orders that allowed developments to be fast-tracked.
“There is one point that I think is incredibly valuable and everyone keeps missing it all the time – and it is causing a lot of issues around areas where development should not be happening,” said Vaccaro.
“Before any development takes place anywhere, a developer needs an environmental impact assessment certificate. However, the problem lies with the fact that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) agents are completely independent and when approached by the developer with a gruesome amount of money, who will say no?
“That in itself is a big flaw in the system because if the developer pays the EIA agent and they say, look here, we want this development, how much is it going to cost to do the EIA. They will go ahead because for obvious reasons, the money will be inviting,” said Vaccaro.
“As far as I know, I think there should be a board that all EIA agents register with, with a good reputation, so that when developers make contact, he or she can contact this board and say, look, I am in need of an EIA agent. The developer pays the board, and the board then sends an agent. This will ensure that the developer works around the board and the agent may not be easily persuaded to deal with the money. Additionally, this will ensure that if the agent says that there cannot be a development done in this particular area, that can be the final call.”
The George Heritage Trust, which advocates for the sustainability and protection of George’s architectural, archaeological and natural heritage, endorsed the petition’s cause to put an end to the municipality’s plan.
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