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Wednesday Mar 27, 2013

Cape Town planning officials slam property development, but politicians disagree

Many Cape Town officials have argued that the massive Wescape housing development planned for the West Coast is a bad idea and should not be allowed - but city politicians have overruled their objections and given the development the nod.

The development site is farmland west of the N7 and 11km south of Atlantis. Up to one million people will live at Wescape, all in the "red" evacuation zone of the Koeberg nuclear power station.

There will be light industry, commercial areas and 200 000 housing units, ranging from single houses to seven-storey blocks of flats. The housing density will be 65 units a hectare - double the density of Delft, Philippi or Gugulethu.

Some of the officials' concerns deal with how Wescape contravenes city planning policies, others with the high cost to the public purse.

They say a development of this magnitude would draw money away from Cape Town's existing poor areas where the council has big backlogs in providing social facilities.

Mayor Patricia de Lille has said she is "excited" about the huge R140 billion urban development, which she believes will "unlock opportunities", but neither she nor councillors have provided the public with facts or arguments to counter their officials' objections. The development, mainly lowercost housing, will leapfrog 17km north of the city's builtup area. This will mean the provincial government will have to agree to change Cape Town's Spatial Development Framework, designed to contain urban sprawl.

A fundamental objection by officials is that the developers make several assumptions about why Wescape will be a success which are not founded in fact. One is that business will follow cheap land. Officials say Atlantis has proved this wrong: it represents 29 percent of vacant industrial land in the metropole, among the cheapest land in the city, but has attracted only 1.2 percent of investment since 2005.

One of the officials' big fears is that if Wescape goes ahead, Cape Town may be left with a dormitory town that is remote and economically dependent on the city. They say this is is the antithesis of the city's stated intention of creating equitable, resilient neighbourhoods, and will come at high social and economic costs.

These are some of the objections from city officials and government:

  • Wescape will add a million people to the 100 000 that live in the "red" zone of the Koeberg nuclear reactor. Legislation requires that in the event of a nuclear accident, the public can be evacuated within 16 hours. The addition of a million people to this zone is "completely unacceptable as it is inconceivable that such a large population would be evacuated and cared for in the event of an accident at Koeberg".

    Eskom objects to the development as the operator of Koeberg nuclear power station, and says the implications for evacuation are "unacceptable". The development should not be approved as it breaches the population limit laid down by Claims regarding provision of rail transport are problematic as Prasa has said there will be no medium-term upgrade of the Atlantis railway.

  • The city does not support Wescape development beyond the urban edge because it will place "extreme pressure on our dwindling resources".

  • The city cannot reach a conclusion about the economic sustainability of Wescape because the development proposal contains theoretical data without any substantive or qualitative data.

  • The development would place "a severe strain on current available resources" of the fire services.

  • Information about the management of transport is "very vague", with no indication about the amount of traffic Wescape will generate or the key destinations. The Integrated Rapid Transit system will not be able to accommodate a service sufficient for the size of Wescape, and so the "key public transport mode should be nil".

  • The bulk service requirements for the Wescape development will be "unaffordable".

    No water or sewerage infrastructure exists in the area, and it will be expensive to maintain infrastructure at remote locations. It will require a completely new regional sewerage plant and a new pipeline from Voelvlei dam to provide water. The water demand will be 200 million litres a day and sanitation 100 million litres a day. It would cost R1.5bn to provide bulk infrastructure, which would have to be paid upfront.

    This is unaffordable. Contributions from the development will not pay for bulk infrastructure.

    Summarising their findings, city officials say:

  • Wescape will lock the city into a development at the expense of other priorities, including upgrading existing infrastructure to support the city's densifiction policy.

  • The upgrading of Atlantis railway, crucial for Wescape, is not definite.

  • Putting a million people within 16km of Koeberg does not comply with the nuclear plant's emergency evacuation plans. Japanese authorities took four to five days to evacuate 100 000 people after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

  • The city cannot afford to provide bulk infrastructure for Wescape.

  • The economic premise on which Wescape is based is inadequate.

  • Wescape goes against the city's current spatial planning policies.

  • Wescape will come at a "significant" cost to the public purse and draw money away from providing bulk infrastructure elsewhere in Cape Town.

  • Wescape may pull funding away from Cape Town's poorer areas and compromise service delivery elsewhere.

    The Cape Times sent several questions to the city which were not answered. The only response was from De Lille's spokesman, Solly Malatsi, who said the application to extend the urban edge had been approved by the full council on December 5.

    The proposal was subject to the approval of Local Government and Planning MEC Anton Bredell, "who will set the conditions".

  • Developers hit back

  • Developers behind the R140 billion Wescape project near Melkbosstrand say all concerns about the Koeberg emergency evacuation plan and transport infrastructure will be addressed during the detail planning process.

    Several city departments, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) and Eskom's Koeberg power station strongly objected to the development, saying it would be impossible to evacuate the projected community of 800 000 people in the event of an emergency at Koeberg.

    In December, the city approved an application to the province asking it to amend the urban edge to accommodate the development, which companies aim to complete in 2035.

    The developers involved include Bellandia, Pact Developers, ARG Design, Target Project and CommuniTgrow.

    Developers said concerns from various departments can only be addressed in the detailed planning, rezoning and environmental impact assessment phases of the application.

    Responding to specific concerns in a city report, developers said:

  • Electricity provision: Eskom said it would take eight years to implement electricity infrastructure. Developers said the rezoning, subdivision and environmental authorisation would take approximately five years. The first occupation of residents will only be possible in six to seven years' time. This would give enough time to provide electricity infrastructure.

  • The Koeberg evacuation plan: developers said they agree that a full safety assessment has to be conducted before any development rights are granted. During the detail planning phase, information for a nuclear safety assessment will become available and this will be done together with the city and Eskom.

    Developers agreed with the NNR that the development should not compromise the emergency plan.

  • Lack of transport infrastructure: developers agreed and said the department's concerns were valid and that a detailed transport plan would be developed.

    David Williams from one of the companies, Pact Developers, said the aim of the development was to build a community that would provide access to opportunities for residents of the Western Cape.

    The Wescape project was first conceptualised in 2006 and initially presented to the city in 2010.

    Williams said Wescape was "a new approach to address the ever increasing housing demand and the associated social challenges that arise from lack of access to services".

    "To merely provide a house is a short-term solution to a complex challenge. The approach is a model that views community development beyond housing.

    "The project provides not only housing, but a strong foundation to ensure that pillars in a community such as education, health care and employment are incorporated to reap the benefits of a strong community for generations to come. The model sees an established economy as the backbone of the development," Williams said. Developers said Wescape would address approximately 100 000 of the 400 000-strong subsidy and gap housing backlog in the city.

    Cape Times

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