Estate plan threatens wetland

Growth around northern Johannesburg in anticipation of the second phase of the Gauteng freeway improvement project is cutting large swaths through precious wetlands and making a mockery of the Water Act, environmentalists have said.

Gateway estates are springing up around three major roads linking Fourways through Kyalami to Midrand, an area described by the developers as “the heart of Johannesburg’s next boom”.

Kristin Kallesen, chairperson of the Just Environmental Action group, said although phase two of the freeway project had been put on hold by the department of transport late last year, the developers were being guided by regional planning that zoned residential and commercial development in some of Gauteng’s last “green lungs”.

Public consultation processes started this week on an environmental impact assessment for the four-lane K56 road, an extension of the William Nicol upgrade that passes through Glenferness and Kyalami. The K56 is planned to link to the PWV9 highway, which runs from north to south parallel to the N1, and the PWV5 from east to west through Blue Hills and Kyalami.

The K56, partly funded by the developers of lifestyle estates in the area, would destroy five wetlands and cut across about 40 properties in Glenferness, including the Cedarwood School, Kallesen said.

Breeding area
“These wetlands are the breeding grounds of the giant African bullfrog, an endangered species only found in healthy wetland systems,” Kallesen said. “The developers may undertake to relocate the bullfrogs, but that does not mean they will protect the breeding grounds.”

Paul Fairall, chairperson of the Gauteng Wetlands Forum, said the three roads together would cut through 17 wetlands and “the third-largest breeding area left in the world for this near-threatened charismatic amphibian”.

The developments springing up around the roads were wiping out the last remaining patch of Egoli grasslands and the wildlife that lived there, such as owls, birds of prey, jackals and other small mammals, he said.

Fairall said the alignment of the roads did not take into account the movement of water and drainage lines, which could threaten the ecological reserve of water required from new developments under the Water Act.

“The planners do not realise that we are facing a huge water crisis. If they approve this kind of development that cuts through water courses, they might as well throw away the Water Act,” Fairall said.

Urban densification
The three roads were earmarked as a priority for provincial development, said the Democratic Alliance’s Midrand councillor, Annette Deppe. Originally planned to provide military access to townships around Pretoria and Johannesburg in the 1970s, they were needed now to take the pressure off national freeways and provide for urban densification.

The South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) was planning to take over the provincial roads after its e-tolling system on Gauteng freeways was in place, she said. These plans were up in the air after e-tolling was halted and a task team chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was set up to co-ordinate work around the improvement project.

Sanral spokesperson Felix Sebato confirmed that phase two of the improvement project had been put on hold and officials were unable to comment on the future of the three roads through northern Johannesburg.

But Juanita de Beer, spokesperson for Bokamoso Environmental Consultants, said her outfit had been consigned to do an independent assessment of the K56 by Steyn Properties, one of the developers. Up to 300 people had attended the first scoping meeting last Wednesday.

Consulting engineer Francois van Rensburg said the Gauteng government had agreed to pay 70% of building the K56 and developers would pay the remaining 30%. The plan was to link it to the PWV5 and PWV9 in the future and construction was expected to start in about three years’ time.

A sensitive case
“The environmental impact assessment process could take up to two years because it is a sensitive case and there are about 1 300 interested and affected parties,” he said.

The main developments being built along the K56 route are Helderfontein Estate, a 240ha residential development by Century Property, and Steyn City, developed by insurance tycoon Douw Steyn and incorporating commercial, retail, residential and leisure nodes, including an 18-hole golf course.

But Kallesen said the developments and roads would kill off equestrian estates in the area, which had grown with sensitivity around the “green lungs” over many years.

“Kyalami has the densest populations of horses and riders in the country and arguably in the world,” she said.

“A 2008 study showed they provided at least 1600 direct jobs and 1000 more in related industries.

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Fiona Macleod
Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements.

She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga.

An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation.

She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive.

She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice.

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