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Proposed road to take toll on Cape vlei

Environmental and community groups are vehemently opposing plans for a toll road running through the wetland areas of False Bay and the south-eastern Cape Flats.

The areas that would be affected by the proposed road include the Rondevlei Nature Reserve, Zeekoeivlei, the Cape Flats Waste Water Works and the Greater Zandvlei Estuary Reserve. Together they are home to fragile ecosystems, with a rich bird, insect, reptile and plant life including a number of endangered species.

The road would extend the R300 and would run from Vanguard Drive to Lakeside through an area known as the “road reserve”. The section would form part of a proposed Cape Town “ring road”, a toll road from Muizenburg to Melkbosstrand.

The road is currently in a planning stage, which is being conducted by a public-private sector partnership between Peninsula Expressway Consortium (Penway) and the South African Roads Agency Limited (Sanral).

The estimated R1,2-billion project is designed to relieve congestion in the Cape Town municipal region.

But environmental groups like the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, the Zandvlei Trust, the Zeekoeivlei Environmental Forum and the Cape Bird Club claim that the proposed road plans fly in the face of Cape Town’s environmental policy, which claims “a commitment to a holistic approach to the environment and to protecting the City of Cape Town’s unique biodiversity”.

The environmental groups argue that the building of the road would have a significant and negative biophysical impact on the region, disrupting the habitats of a number of bird and animal species, including endangered species like the western leopard toad.

The area is also home to a number of threatened plant species, such the Cape Flats fynbos.

The groups warn against the cumulative and secondary effects of the development, citing problems like pollution, noise and increased development.

The final draft of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is being prepared by environmental consultants Chand/Ecosense JV and will be released either next month or in March.

Once the final EIA is tabled, interested and affected parties may comment before it goes through various levels of local and provincial government for comment. It would require executive approval before the tender for the construction of the road.

Penway was awarded scheme developer status in 2000 by Sanral after an unsolicited proposal, but will still have to bid for the construction contract.

However, groups like the Zandvlei Trust criticise the manner in which the EIA is being conducted, saying that its time frames of observation have been “hopelessly inadequate” to provide a comprehensive report of the environmental damage the road will cause.

However, Nazir Alli, CEO of Sanral, claims that the “studies are definitely not superficial” and says that the proposals do not contradict Cape Town city environmental policy. He says that the exact routes for the road have not been finalised and would be planned to ensure the least environmental damage.

Public meetings to discuss the project took place in September last year. However, these were poorly attended, especially in the poorer areas of Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha, and environmental groups in the area claim that communities that will be affected by the road have not been adequately consulted and are, therefore, ill-informed about the plans.

Alli says that the need for the road is based on comprehensive studies that are still taking place.

“We do this work to assist and promote the growth of the economy, the social fabric of our society. We will take the better option. We always do that, rest assured about it.”

The Mail & Guardian understands that while the Cape Town council has come to no official conclusion or statement on the plan, there are feelings within the council that the plan is problematic on a number of levels with regard to environmental issues, waste-management issues and transport plans.

There are indications that the planned R300 route may not be necessary or the only alternative to the city’s congestion problems.

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Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon
Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon is a lecturer in anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand and a research associate of the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa.

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