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Wednesday Jul 31, 2013

Decision on Philippi property development today

The City of Cape Town says the recommendation to allow a low-cost residential development on underutilised land in Philippi to be tabled at today's council meeting is a 'compromise' it has been forced to make because of the critical housing need.

Farmworkers tending land in Philippi.

But civic organisations and farmers in the area have warned that if the council gives the green light to reverse a prior decision to hold off on any development in the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA), it will be the death knell for the city's 'breadbasket' and have long-term implications for residents' food security.

Last November, the council agreed to shelve an application for a 5 000unit mixed use development until it had considered the findings of an independent food system study of the metro's food networks.

But in May, the mayoral committee had a change of heart and resolved that, given the 'massive demand for housing and increased burden of delivery', a review of the artificial barrier that protected rural land from urban creep 'needs to be undertaken with great urgency'.

This about-turn sparked a furore on social media, with even Premier Helen Zille tweeting: 'There are huge tracts of land formally in the Philippi Horticultural Area that have not been farmed for decades... get the facts.'

The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance's Gavin Smith responded to Zille by pointing out the 2012 application by private developer MSP Planners was not supported by the vast majority of the city's departments, mayoral committee or the Western Cape Departments of Agriculture and Sustainable Resource Management.

A 2012 report to the city's economic, environment and spatial planning committee noted that the impact of climate change and fuel prices on the cost of food had heightened the value of the Philippi Horticultural Area to the city's food security.

While the area was being eyed for residential development, 'several risks and implications' would arise if this happened. These included the impact on the aquifer and the water table if the area was mined and stormwater systems were laid down.

'Given the value of the (horticultural area) resource in respect of food security and as an employment area of unskilled women, the current policy limits urban development in the (horticultural area). The aim is to secure the resource for future generations and provide the certainty required for farmers to continue to invest in their horticultural operations in the long term. This is based on a body of research that quantifies its resource value and provides evidence that contradicts the notion that the area's horticultural role is declining.'
The document did, however, allude to the possibility of urban development on the western and eastern edges where resource values were low.

The applications that have been submitted apply to these south-west and south-east quadrants of the horticultural area.

Mayor Patricia de Lille has said that not all plots were being aggressively farmed and some owners had indicated a willingness to sell their land for development. Furthermore, it was 'highly doubtful' that the city's poor got their vegetables from the horticultural area, as this area produced mainly soft-leaf vegetables such as lettuce.

But Smith said satellite imagery showed that the south-west quadrant was used extensively for farming. The Food and Farming Campaign's Nazeer Sonday said the loss of this land would quadruple the price of 48 vegetables. More than half the vegetables consumed in the city came from the area.

Gareth Bloor, mayoral committee member for economic, environment and spatial planning, said the erven in question were owned by a private developer who was applying to build on them. The city's decision was in the 'broader interest of addressing the enormous need for housing' while ensuring that a core agricultural area was protected.

Cape Argus

 
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