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Saturday Feb 20, 2010

Now it's no to development of Elands Bay heritage site

Baboon Point at Elands Bay - the Western Cape's first proclaimed heritage site and rated by archaeologists as being of global heritage significance - should not be developed, Heritage Western Cape (HWC) has decided.

This decision, taken yesterday at a joint sitting of the provincial heritage authority's two standing committees, may break the deadlock that occurred when these same committees made contradictory findings late last year about a housing development application for part of this West Coast heritage property.

But would-be developer Midnight Storm is not taking the latest decision lying down, and has already asked for a meeting with the political head of HWC, Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Sakkie Jenner, as it is entitled to in terms of the formal appeal process.

Also, it may institute a legal challenge. This is apparent from its refusal to take part in yesterday's meeting, on advice from lawyers which was to the effect that the meeting was illegal, and that the original approval for the development by one of the HWC's committees should stand.

In a shock decision, the Built Environment and Landscape Committee (Belcom) approved the proposed development just weeks after the site had been declared a provincial heritage site. But a fortnight later, the Archaeology, Palaeontology and Meteorites Committee (APM) refused to sanction the application.

Both decisions were formally appealed - Belcom's by the Elands Bay Environmental and Development Action Group (Ebedag), a local NGO, and the APM committee's by Midnight Storm - and subsequently set aside.

Then, earlier this month, the HWC council decided to hold a special joint meeting of the two committees where the development application would be considered from scratch. This is what happened yesterday.

But Midnight Storm representative Brett Bailey declined an invitation by chairwoman Dr Janette Deacon to make a submission.

"On advice from counsel, we are not going to do any presentation or participate in this meeting. Our stance is that this meeting is illegal. We want the (original) Belcom decision upheld, and we will be taking this matter on appeal to the minister (Jenner)," he told her.

Ebedag chairman Brendhan Kannemeyer said his group had supported the nomination of Baboon Point as a heritage site.

"We're of the firm opinion that Baboon Point should be protected and preserved and any development proposal should be rejected."

The only committee member at the joint sitting to speak in favour of the proposed development was Dr Piet Claassen, a senior lecturer emeritus at Stellenbosch University specialising in planning and environmental management systems.

He did however acknowledge that his previously "very strong support" had been tempered slightly by Ebedag's submission and comments by his colleagues opposed to the proposed development.

Fellow committee member Dr Antonia Malan, an independent archaeologist and member of the Historical Archaeology Research Group, said she that could not support the development proposal, and questioned whether the developers' claimed conservation benefits through a partnership would actually materialise.

Len Raymond reminded his fellow committee members that they were discussing a site that had been occupied by humans, and considered "sacred and special" for tens of thousands of years.

"These are time periods that our minds cannot conceive. I feel arrogant to even give an opinion (on the development proposal)," he said.

Cape Argus


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