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Monday Apr 16, 2012

Northern Joburg property owners bridle at proposed highway

One of Gauteng's few remaining open spaces is under threat from a dual-lane highway that will cut through the heart of SA'S R800 million horse industry, worsen urban sprawl and demolish residential properties.

Kristen Kallesen, chairwoman of Just Environmental Action, with Chris de Villiers of the Glenferness Residents Assocation at a horse farm near Kyalami.

Angry residents of Kyalami and Glenferness, north of Joburg, have been fighting to re-route the proposed K56, which runs though their upmarket suburbs, warning that, if the road stays on course, thousands of groomsmen could be left jobless and that endangered wildlife could be destroyed.

In Glenferness, about 40 properties are in the path of the proposed road, which could also see the demolition of Cedarwood School, and cause the world-famous Lipizzaner Centre to move.

Kristin Kallesen, of Just Environmental Action (JEA), a lobby group that strives to protect the province's threatened green belts, said developments such as Steyn City and the Helderfontein country estate had "forced the hand" of the Gauteng Department of Roads to construct the proposed K56 through wetlands and prime horse country.

The department, which did not respond to the Saturday Star, had now appointed Bokamoso Environmental Consultants to conduct the environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedure.

Horses and ducks at the Glenferness horse estate.

Kallesen said the luxury property developers were "using pseudo green arguments" to sell and then destroy rural areas that should be conserved as productive greenbelts to provide for their own needs at the cost of the environment and the rights of existing landowners.

The JEA claimed that the funding for the K56 was a joint venture between Steyn City Properties and Century City Properties and that this was "tantamount to bribery".

But the developers said the issue was being sensationalised as the K56 had been on the cards for the past 30 years.

"The public must not jump the gun as the EIA process must be undertaken to gather all the information and investigate alternatives," Mark Corbett, the chief executive of Century City Properties, said.

The proposed road has been on the drawing board since the 1970s to open up access for police and military vehicles access to Soweto during apartheid.

But residents have opposed the road as it would destroy irreplaceable conservation sites, wetlands and bullfrog breeding grounds.

There were more than 40 home owners directly affected by the Glenferness section of the K56 who now faced a "bleak future," said Chris de Villiers, the chairman of the Glenferness Residents Association.

"It takes out the whole front of my property; my main house, two rental cottages, my workshop and my staff quarters. It takes out a lot of houses around mine, including a playschool next door.

"The issue is that municipalities have allowed us to build our properties. This road goes through the middle of Glenferness, and will divide the suburb in two.

"If you look at a map of Joburg and Pretoria, this is the middle pimple that is being squeezed with all this urban sprawl and development... We're not against development, but the alignment of the road as it sits now is very destructive to the community," he said, adding that open space and rural greenbelts were an asset for the "sanity" of Joburg.

Kallesen said the wetlands in the area supported large populations of endangered bullfrogs; and that grass owls, slender mongoose, jackal, tortoise and porcupine were regular sights.

"This area also has one of the largest and most viable equestrian industries in the world," she said, adding there were 1 600 groomsmen alone.

"As home owners who bought specifically to ride their horses move away, more development will be allowed. Horse riders who dare to continue to ride near the roads risk harm, and even death, to themselves and their horses with this road that will have high traffic volumes at high speed."

If the Lipizzaner Centre closed, it would threaten the viability of the Gauteng Horse Society in Kyalami, which holds about 100 shows a year and has about 3 200 members.

"As riders give up riding, massive job losses will be on the cards for horse grooms, those who erect stables, horse arenas, horse riding instructors, riding yards, feed merchants and saddlery shops, as well as the many vet surgeries in the area."

But Century City's Corbett defended the road. "The routes for all K-routes were determined in the 1960s, and a large number of these routes have already been expropriated by the government.

"As the route was determined so long ago it is anticipated that there will be changes to the alignment or that the road may no longer be an option.

"The EIA will identify all the issues - such as the school and other environmental issues. We've also lodged certain proposed changes.

"There is a government act that gover ns expropriation, and people will be paid market value or more. Joburg is an expanding city and service departments must proactively plan for this.

"Not too long ago Sandton City and Bryanston were also smallholdings.

"We live in a changing and expanding society and must ensure we plan for the future and ensure that it is environmentally sensitive," added Corbett.

Saturday Star

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