New environmental policy on the horizon

MATTHEW HIRSCH

The City of Cape Town’s new environmental policy, which is set to be adopted by full council, has been labelled as a smokescreen by the Camps Bay Ratepayers’ Association.

The item was on the agenda at Sub-council 16 on April 18 and is set to be discussed at various ward committees before going to full council.

Johan van der Merwe, the City’s Mayco member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said the new environmental strategy is in line with the National Strategy on Sustainable Development, which understands that the economy and society is dependent upon the natural environment, rather than seeing the economy, society, and the environment as competing needs to be balanced against each other.

“This is an important perspective shift as it recognises that the city is dependent on its natural environment to provide vital goods and services,” said Mr Van der Merwe.

But Chris Willemse, chairperson of the Camps Bay Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, pointed to the controversial Maiden’s Cove development. The plan to sell off or lease a portion of City-owned land, which included some of Maiden’s Cove, was first announced last year. In March, the City invited tenders to three portions of land in Clifton despite multiple objections from civic organisations and residents across the city.

“Until (the City) administration ceases to steal public open land for private development, any policy is just a smokescreen for a political party to enrich its sponsors and itself – as we have seen with the Maiden’s Cove development and the selling off of the Philippi Horticultural Area.”

Luke Stevens, vice chairperson of the Green Point Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, said protecting the natural environment was important in a time of increasing densification.

“Constant growth creates constantly increasing pressure on space, energy and management resources. We need education, invention and incentive to generate and apply innovations that resolve these constraints. Environmental policy needs to remain at the top of the agenda right across local government,” said Mr Stevens.

Mr Van der Merwe said the new strategy takes a principle-based approach rather than a sector-based approach.

Principles in the City’s new environmental policy include:

* Realising economic and social benefits;

* Preventing, minimising, and mitigating environmental impacts;

* Working towards resource efficiency;

* Promoting and implementing environmentally sensitive and low-impact urban design;

* Ensuring that residents are educated and empowered, and

* Ensuring the protection of natural and cultural heritage.

He said that the policy was important for the City. “The natural environment is an irreplaceable asset that provides a myriad ecosystem, goods and services, and a host of associated economic and social benefits, to the residents of Cape Town. Most importantly, Cape Town’s natural environment is a common asset belonging to all residents of Cape Town, which must remain accessible and deliver benefits to all – both current and future generations.

“In order to ensure that this asset is sustainable and effectively protected and managed, it is necessary to have an up-to-date and comprehensive environmental strategy and associated policies, plans, and other tools in place.”

City Bowl ward councillor, Dave Bryant, who was at the sub-council meeting when the policy was discussed, said Cape Town was unique with a nature reserve located in the middle of the city. “The natural environment is one of our key drivers of tourism and must be protected and maintained for future generations to come,” he said.

“The Cape Town City Bowl is surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty and it is essential to ensure that our environment is properly managed and protected.

“We must, however, recognise the growing pressures facing us with increasing urban populations and therefore it is important that we have the tools to balance the complex demands of the modern city.”