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Monday Dec 18, 2017

Fate of Noon Gun Tea Room sealed

Cape Town's Bo-Kaap residents have lost their appeal to save remnants of the defunct Noon Gun Tea Room at the top of Longmarket Street, with property developers winning the right to demolish the building.

The view from the site.

Weekend Argus reported in June on the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers Association's battle to save what it believes was a heritage building standing since the 1800s.

The association lodged its appeal with Heritage Western Cape (HWC), the provincial government authority tasked with preserving historically significant sites. But HWC has ruled in favour of property developer Cedar Falls.

HWC based its decision on a heritage report compiled by the Vida Memoria Heritage Consultants, a company Cedar Falls hired and paid for the assessment.

The civic association's secretary Jacqueline Poking said they were "disappointed with the outcome" and alleged there had been undue influence. "Money talked. The developer got a lawyer to defend their actions at the appeal," said Poking.

Poking said: "We felt the process should have been restarted and that an independent study should have been initiated investigating some of the social history in the ethnography. Our concerns were just swept aside."

Gail Behr, one of the financial partners at Cedar Falls, did not respond to Weekend Argus queries on the HWC decision this week.

Behr has been adamant the former tea room and restaurant had to give way to their cottages on Signal Hill, overlooking unobstructed views of Table Mountain and Cape Town.

Behr previously told Weekend Argus the site was "in a very poor state.

"There's nothing worth saving here. Sections of it are illegal and built on government land. We want to demolish the whole thing."

The defunct Noon Gun Tea Room is set to be demolished in favour of a new property development.

HWC said the Noon Gun Tea Room lacked "social value".The heritage practitioner (Vida) research showed "the evidence and public attitude towards the site are varied with some of the community not attaching value" to it.

"The Bo-Kaap Civic have not provided a compelling argument for retaining the relic parts of the 1930s building which lie embedded within the current structure," said HWC.

"The building cannot be graded from an intrinsic architectural significance point of view, as it has been reconfigured in a way that completely obliterated (it)."

HWC said also there was "insufficient evidence to support the memorialisation" of the site.

"The (HWC) committee supports the application for the complete demolition of all structures on the site."

City of Cape Town officials in the HWC outcome said the building had been graded as not worthy of conservation.

Mark Thomas, editor of uSpiked website, which is funded by one of Cedar Falls' financiers, has meanwhile lambasted the civic association for its "obstructionists' forked tongues".

"Some communities have their cunning and ' politically correct' ways of excluding 'outsiders'. The ( Bo-Kaap) association routinely opposes entrances of new property owners and developers in the area and its outskirts by evoking heritage status," wrote Thomas.

"They unsuccessfully objected to a R1-billion development bordering the area claiming it would water down the heritage status of 'their Bo-Kaap'.

"Their latest objection concerns a property at the top of the Longmarket Street. This property was bought under a 'willing-seller-willing-buyer transaction'.

"Whose heritage is the Noon Day Gun anyway? Certainly not the Khoi's and the San's because they didn't need to fire cannons to tell time."

When asked whether the civic's objections were premised on keeping "outsiders" from moving to Bo-Kaap, Poking said it was "simply about protecting our heritage".

The civic association has meanwhile appealed to HWC to rule against another property developer intent on demolishing buildings in Lion Street.

This would exclude the old St Monica's maternity ward, a chapel and nursery on the same street.

Poking said: "We question the process of the grading of the buildings and why some buildings are deemed heritage-worthy and must be retained and others can be demolished."

"St Monica's was built using public funds for the poor and destitute. It was sold without public comment and participation. Its use was changed to 'commercial use'.

"The city had first option to buy the land back from St Monica's if they were not going to use the land.

"Why did the city not take that option, when they said that public land would be used for social housing?"

In proposals before HWC, the developer proposes to erect a 12-storey building in Lion Street which is predominantly a residential area.

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

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