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Monday Oct 11, 2010

Hermanus residents win say in Schulphoek development

The people of Hermanus have been given a chance to have their say about the controversial Schulphoek development.

This comes amid strong opposition to the development along 1.7km of pristine beachfront, both from those who opposed it on environmental grounds and from those who say the poorer communities of Zwelihle and Mount Pleasant have not got the houses and other amenities promised as part of the development deal.

Some say the Schulphoek development approval lapsed on September 2 because the developers had failed to start the development within the prescribed two years.

However, the Western Cape Department of Environment Affairs and Development Planning said the Overstrand Municipality had applied in July to have the development approval extended by another three years.

But because the department had also received letters from the Hermanus Ratepayers' Association objecting to this extension request, a regulation under the National Environmental Management Act kicked in, which states that if there is an application for "a substantive amendment, or if the rights of other parties are likely to be affected", the authorities must, before making a decision, instruct the applicant to conduct a public participation process.

On September 2, the provincial department wrote to the Overstrand Municipality instructing it to appoint environment consultants to carry out a public participation process. The department also asked the developers to give it a detailed environment management plan for the construction phase of the Schulphoek development. This plan will not be approved until after the municipality has carried out the public participation process.

In spite of this instruction, contractors began bulldozing the site on September 9. Zwelihle residents chased them off and the Hermanus ratepayers alerted the provincial authorities.

Last week, Mount Pleasant resident Bernard Overmeyer said he had been offered money in 2005 to withdraw his appeal against the approval of the Schulphoek development. Overmeyer believed his appeal had not been considered by the provincial government and said he had "never heard anything" from the department.

Asked to comment, the Department of Environment Affairs and Development Planning said it had considered Overmeyer's appeal, which had included a signed petition from residents, and had made changes as a result. It instructed that the buildings had to be set further back from the coast than the original approved plan. This would also give the public "free access along the shoreline".

Other changes were that there had to be vehicle access and parking for people using the beach and recreational facilities and that the residential section of Schulphoek had to provide "gap houses" - for people who earned between R4 000 and R10 000.

The developer made a commitment to build 244 low- and middle-income houses, and 100 "gap houses" within one kilometre of Schulphoek.

Once these changes had been made, the department approved the Schulphoek development on September 2, 2008.

The department pointed out that in 2007 it had received a letter from the Schulphoek Development Action Group, which had "fully supported" the social housing component of the Schulphoek proposal.

Zwelihle and Mount Pleasant residents have said the Schulphoek development approved in 2008 was a far cry from what had been agreed to years ago.

The upmarket beachfront houses at Schulphoek were meant to help cross-subsidise low-cost housing in Zwelihle and Mount Pleasant. In Overstrand Municipality minutes of 2005, the Schulphoek proposal was that these poorer areas would get 436 subsidised houses, 126 flats and 231 "affordable" houses.

But when the municipality sold the Schulphoek land to Rabcav this year, there was no mention in the sale agreement of these elements. And although the Schulphoek land has a market value of R200 million, the municipality sold it to Rabcav for a mere R5.3m.

Cape Times


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