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Friday Feb 24, 2012

'Cape Town should note World Heritage Site guidelines for buffer zone properties'

In the article "Red Hill property owner fined for operating business without permission", little is made of the fact that the property in question falls within the proclaimed Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site.

Neighbouring landowners embrace its protected status and manage their properties accordingly. This is what should be publicly supported.

It is inconceivable that the City of Cape Town will yet again approve another temporary departure from the existing zoning regulations to allow activities and businesses that are not in keeping with this World Heritage Site.

There needs to be a clearer understanding of what is involved here: an incremental degradation of a unique and precious environment that has international recognition and standing.

On January 30 2009, the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas was proclaimed as a World Heritage Site in terms of SA legislation, and under the international auspices of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

According to a Unesco summary, this "serial site" is made up of eight protected areas, covering 553 000ha. The summary states:

"The Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants in the world. It represents less than 0.5 percent of the area of Africa, but is home to nearly 20 percent of the continent's flora.

"The site displays outstanding ecological and biological processes associated with the Fynbos vegetation, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region. The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide.

"Unique plant reproductive strategies, adaptive to fire, patterns of seed dispersal by insects, as well as patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation found in the flora, are of outstanding value to science."

In terms of the SA legislation, certain powers and duties were delegated to the director-general of the then department of environmental affairs and tourism in terms of the World Heritage Convention Act.

Also, the erf and/or farm number of each and every property proclaimed as part of the new World Heritage Site were published in the Government Gazette.

The Red Hill "Farmhouse" property - Cape Farm 1404, known as Wildschutsbrand - is in the proclaimed buffer zone.

Incidentally, so is the site for the Chapman's Peak toll plaza.

Of the World Heritage Site's eight sections proclaimed - seven in the Western Cape and one in the Eastern Cape - the peninsula section is the only one where the buffer zone was inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List.

It was subsequently proclaimed in terms of SA law.

This buffer zone was clearly considered necessary to ensure effective protection and proper conservation of the peninsula section of the site.

Properties in this zone already enjoyed environmental protection because they were situated in the Cape Peninsula Protected Natural Environment (CPPNE). They were thus proclaimed as the buffer zone for the peninsula section of the World Heritage Site.

What is the history of the CPPNE?

What constraints were supposed to have been imposed on these landowners in this protected natural environment prior to proclamation of the World Heritage Site?

The CPPNE has been a statutory conservation area since 1984, when it was declared as the Cape Peninsula Nature Area.

In 1989, the nature areas, which had been declared in terms of the 1967 Physical Planning Act, were declared as Protected Natural Environments in terms of the 1989 Environmental Conservation Act, and the Cape Peninsula Nature Area accordingly became the CPPNE.

Subsequent to the proclamation, letters were sent to landowners by the Western Cape provincial department of environmental affairs, indicating legal obligations and restrictions which applied to all land owners in the protected area.

These letters show that all of these landowners were well aware of the protected status of their properties and the constraints placed upon them.

One of these letters, signed by the head of department, states: "The CPPNE is an unique area of local regional and indeed international importance.

"It is recognised as a hot spot of biodiversity and one of the most conservation worthy areas on the planet.

"As a landowner in this very special area, you are in a privileged position to make a concrete contribution to its long-term conservation by managing your property along conservation lines."

Small wonder, then, that these properties were proclaimed as the buffer zone in the World Heritage Site.

The World Heritage Convention binds member states to the appropriate management of the World Heritage Sites and buffer zones.

Is it not irresponsible to support any activity that in any way compromises the integrity of this amazing World Heritage Site?

According to the "operational guidelines" for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, any modifications to the buffer zone subsequent to inscription of a property on a World Heritage List, should be approved by the World Heritage Committee.

It is therefore surely incumbent on the City of Cape Town - and, in fact, on all our authorities - to take cognisance of the World Heritage Site guidelines when making decisions for any property within the buffer zone.

  • Sandy Barnes is a veteran conservationist with a particular interest in, and knowledge of, the "Deep South", as the South Peninsula is affectionately known.

    Cape Argus

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