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Princessvlei remains an ecological battle ground

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 05 April 2011

Princessvlei, a small shallow wetland situated in the Retreat area of the Cape Flats, remains the subject of a tug of war between developers and conservationists.

Princess Vlei remains the subject of a tug of war

Thirteen years ago in 1998 Insight Property Developers set their sights on the property and approached the City of Cape Town with an unsolicited proposal to purchase the land. The plan was to build a shopping centre on the eastern portion of public open space land of around 9000 m2.

Approval was given subject to the outcome of inter-alia, a Public Participation Process, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and rezoning of the property (to business).

After the Developer (Insight) advertised the rezoning application in 2002 a Record of Decision (RoD) was issued by the Dept of Environmental Affairs – valid for 4 years. Conditions of this DEA authorisation included the removal of all alien vegetation in and around the whole vlei as well as the removal of all indigenous topsoil and vegetation from the proposed activity area for the re-vegetation of disturbed areas.

It was concluded that the proposed development would result in a socio-economic boost for the region, providing opportunities to, among others, improve the usage of the park and promote environmental education.

Since 2008, and following a Biodiversity Network Study, Princessvlei was shown to be anything but an erf with low conservation value. It is, in fact, quite critical.

The study showed that two vegetation types are present at the vlei, Cape Flats Dune Strandveld along the western and northern shores and Cape Flats Sand Fynbos on the eastern shore. Both are listed nationally as Endangered and Critically Endangered respectively.

The eastern shore of Princessvlei forms an important linkage for ecological processes that support the larger natural open space area. Although the vegetation is in poor condition, it forms an ‘irreplaceable consolidation’ area in support of the adjacent wetland and strandveld vegetation.

The wetland was also given a CBA2 (Critical Biodiversity Area) rating after expert review due to, among others, the presence of the endangered Western Leopard Toad.

Although the site was included in the Biodiversity Network in 2009 the City of Cape Town recommended that subdivision proceed on condition that the RoD be fully implemented and the developer pays R150 000 followed by R80 000 per month into the Princessvlei Environmental Fund.

The RoD and rezoning approval had by 2009 expired and the City applied for extension. When the extension to the rezoning application was advertised (simultaneously with the EIA extension of validity) the City received 241 objections and two petitions.

Objectors hold that the zoning of the land should revert to public open space, and that the concurrent application for the extension period for the zoning should not be granted.

Working for Wetlands Programme’s Provincial Coordinator for the Western and Northern Cape, Heidi Nieuwoudt, maintains that an ideal outcome for Princessvlei would entail minimal to no development close to the wetland. She suggests that the wetland needs good, able, well-equipped management, which should include a manager and the development of a management plan. Positive outcomes would then be the rehabilitation and conservation of the Cape Flats Sand Fynbos.

However, according to Mandy Noffke, WESSA Conservation Projects Manager, complete restoration of the area will not be possible as the system is highly impacted and degraded by years of neglect and urban pressure. “However restoration of the endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos vegetation is certainly possible in parts of the Princessvlei area.”

As things stand the Council’s decision to extend the validity of the rezoning will only be taken once the RoD has been resolved. In the meantime, the City is finalising its comment on the extension to the RoD request.

This is a summarized version of the “Princessvlei –Tug of war” by Petro Kotze. Taken from ‘The Water Wheel’ – March / April 2011.

2 comments to Princessvlei remains an ecological battle ground

  • Vaughn Thompson

    The proposed development is totally inappropriate for the site and would bring high levels of impact into an already compromised biodiversity site. While complete restoration of the wetland and surrounding vegetation units is not viable at this point encroaching on it further will not improve the situation. The Parks department has already started the process of proclaiming the site a Biodiverstiy Agreement site with Cape Nature and no further development should be allowed until this process is complete and plans have been drawn up to manage the area correctly. The developers have other alternatives for development in this area. I strongly object to the development of green areas when the alternative for densification exists and this should be followed as policy.

  • shelley eppel

    My husband and I are totally opposed to this senseless
    and insensitive development.

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