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Thursday Mar 05, 2015

Court halts KZN wetland holiday home development

A 512-UNIT "high-density" holiday home development being built on a site overlooking Lake Mgobozeneli in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park at Sodwana Bay has been brought to a halt through court action, which could potentially set an important precedent for the protection of 'buffer zones" in environmentally sensitive areas.

An aerial shot of the halted development.

While the park's officials have over the past decade brought many applications to stop illegal developments in the park itself - which is a World Heritage site - this is the first time they are seeking judicial authority to protect land outside its boundaries.

The park's authority joined forces with the office of the MEC for environmental affairs to launch the application in the Pietermaritzburg High Court against a host of respondents including Feasey Property Group Holdings, its director Geoffrey Little and two builders, Don Chandler and Johan Viljoen, who are already occupying sites on the land.

They all agreed to an order in which they undertook to stop any development on the site, which was being marketed as "Secret Lakes", until the matter was either settled out of court, or there was an un-appealable order of the court.

They declined to comment further yesterday, but have indicated they intend to oppose the order's being made final and would file opposing papers next week.

In her affidavit, which came before Judge Themba Sishi this week, the park's chief financial officer, Terri Castis, said the lake itself was inside the park and was an unspoilt natural resource, "an extremely important" nursery area for marine species and had a high conservation status.

"It has unique, rare and endangered plant and animal communities... a small breeding population of crocodiles and hippo and abundant bird life. It is no surprise that it is being called a secret lake," she said.

She referred to laws and regulations which recognise and set out rules for "buffer zones" - areas outside the park but over which park authorities had to have influence.

The development site, she said, was about 175m from the park's boundary and was in the buffer zone. Chandler and Viljoen were already in the process of building structures without proper leases, environmental authority, Amafa authority, groundwater extraction and waste management licences or local authority approval.

Attempts at getting co-operation from the developers since 2010 had failed and construction had begun in spite of several letters of warning.

She said from correspondence it initially seemed that the development was to have been a caravan park and camping site. The Ingonyama Trust had given the developers a 40year lease to develop this "shareblock-type development". However, it seemed that the trust had no right to sign any lease because it did not own the land.

And now it was being developed as a "high-density township" of holiday homes.

Chandler, she said, had put up a temporary home in which he was living while building "a lodge". He had created a dirt road, was doing brick making on site and had drilled a borehole.

"Viljoen claims he has a sub-lease from Little for 512 stands and he is cutting levels to build three show houses."

Castis said both men indicated that an environmental impact assessment was not required because "this was not a development but a leasing exercise".

In a statement yesterday, Park chief executive Andrew Zaloumis said the park had "no choice" but to go to court to prevent people from attempting to appropriate rights which were not theirs.

"Unauthorised developments also have a negative impact on the economic potential of these rich areas... for communities living within the park it means the loss of authentic opportunities and sustainable employment."

The Mercury

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