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R700k wetland fine for luxury developer

The self-proclaimed leading developer of luxury estates in southern Africa, Century Property Developments, has paid a R700 000 fine for building illegally.

This comes after a 2015 inspection by officials from the Gauteng department of agricultural and rural development, which found the company had built a wall in a wetland without permission. The wall diverted the flow of water in a tributary to the Jukskei, north of Johannesburg.

The department issued a compliance notice, demanding the developer fix the problem.

Before this notice, Century used a loophole in the National Environmental Management Act — Section 24G Rectification — to get retrospective permission to have the wall. This much-opposed section allows companies to admit they broke the law, pay a fine and continue with their activities.

The Inanda Gate Polo Field is part of a larger development by Century and other property developers. Century specialises in providing opulent living and curated versions of nature. In this case, it involved a polo field between the Riversands, Beaulieu and Saddlebrook estates.

In provincial plans, much of the north of Johannesburg is zoned for agriculture and to protect the last spots of indigenous plants, trees and animals. But luxury estates have taken overmuch of this land, including Waterfall Estate, Steyn City and the Blue Hills Equestrian Estate.

This is not the first time Century has built walls illegally in wetlands.The provincial agriculture department has inspected two other cases, according to previous Mail & Guardian reports.

As part of this transgression —24G application — Century said it would rehabilitate damage done in building the wall and create a structure that did less to interfere with the wetland.

In announcing its decision in July, the provincial agriculture department sent a letter to Century’s managing director, Mark Corbett. It notes Century had already paid a R700 000 fine for illegal development.

It also says Corbett had signed a letter stating no similar unlawful activity would take place in future without the department’s prior written approval and had made a commitment to comply with South African environmental legislation.

The letter gives conditions under which the development can continue. These include ensuring any structures built around the polo field allow small animals to move freely, and for nothing to disrupt the natural flow of water in the area.

Century must then have monitoring audits twice a year for three years. Environmental inspectors can use these to ensure the area has been rehabilitated.

The decision underplays concerns raised by conservation groups when Century first proposed its plans to build a polo field. They pointed out flaws in the proposals, which included the effect of the destruction of the natural habitat on endangered species in the area, such as the African giant bullfrog. Relentless development has wiped out all but a handful of the frog’s breeding grounds.

The development also falls into an area zoned for agriculture and, says the letter, the site “is located within an important ecological support area which has the potential to provide habitat for red-listed animals, orange-listed plants and primary vegetation [Gauteng grassland]”.

But the department says Century can go ahead with its development if the conditions are adhered to.

In short, Century broke the law, paid a fine and can continue building its polo field.

Century opted to not answer questions in time for publication. But it did show the M&G around the site afterwards. Corbett said that the wall it had been fined for was a mistake; the result of a contractor building a longer wall than they were supposed to do. “When you have so many people working on different sites, there are always going to be small things that go wrong.” 

While the fine was “high”, he said Century had immediately worked to fix their fault. 

This article was updated to reflect Century’s responses post-publishing.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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