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Monday Dec 24, 2012

'No' to luxury Sea Point hotel

In what has been hailed as a victory for civil society, which forked out millions of rands to prevent development of the Sea Point Pavilion site, provincial authorities have finally said no to a luxury hotel and spa there.

With its 52 bedrooms, private sundeck and swimming pool, as well as sea-facing public restaurant, the planned upmarket hotel sparked massive controversy, not least because special permission was needed to authorise construction below the high-water mark.

The huge outdoor pool complex is a Cape Town institution, and local residents dug deep into their own pockets to fight the hotel plans - to the tune of more than R2.8 million, according to Janey Ball, project manager for Seafront for All (Seafa), a non-profit voluntary association established to ensure that the land, zoned as public open space, remained available for all to use.

Seafa and the Sea Point Ratepayers Association were quick to welcome the news yesterday that Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell had rejected the proposal, which has been up in the air for about six years.

Bredell refused the application from On Track Developments, owned by Laurie Peregrino, which won a contract to develop the site in 2000.

The City of Cape Town owns the site.

The contract was a long lease, including a development plan for upmarket hotels and a commercial node for leisure and tourism adjacent to the popular municipal pool.

Property in the area is so sought after that one estate agency confirmed this week that it had closed sales worth R200m on the Atlantic seaboard in October and November alone.

These included a luxury R65m, five- bedroom Bantry Bay home, while another was sold in Clifton for R20m.

On the Sea Point Pavilion plan, the developer needed written authorisation in terms of the Environmental Conservation Act, along with special authorisation for construction below the high- water mark. But Seafa lodged a legal review against former MEC Tasneem Essop's decision on the basis that she had not excercised her mind before granting a record of decision in favour of the development.

Judges Siraj Desai and Burton Fourie then ordered that the record of decision be referred back to the MEC for environmental affairs and development planning to be reviewed, in accordance with certain guidelines, as set out in the judgment - such as a new environmental impact assessment.

The developers appealed, but lost, and the lost a further appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal last year.

Yesterday Bredell said that in terms of the Western Cape High Court judgment to remit the matter for reconsideration, the authorisation decision issued by Essop on August 16, 2004, was set aside.

"Authorisation for the execution of the development is refused in terms of section 22 of the Environmental Conservation Act, 1989", he said.

Bredell added that he had made the decision after considering all the relevant documentation.

He also decided against allowing the applicant any further extension of time within which to submit the final environmental impact report which had not been submitted in terms of the stipulated timeframes.

"Accordingly, the decision is based on the available information on the file which also does not address the deficiencies identified in the Western Cape High Courth judgment," he added.

Welcoming the decision, Sea Point Ratepayers Association chairman Gary Muller said Sea Point had never wanted the development, and that it was "ridiculous" that it had taken so long to reach a conclusion.

"I'm very glad the minister has kicked it out. I sincerely hope this is the end of it," he said.

Ball added that she was delighted that environmental reason had prevailed.

"We are now waiting in hopeful anticipation for the City of Cape Town to do the right thing and withdraw the proposal call/award," she said.

She added that the campaign had cost civil society well over R2.8 million, all of which was privately funded.

Weekend Argus (Saturday Argus)

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