Green Scorpions sting luxury property developer

Gauteng’s Green Scorpions have clamped down on a leading property developer for its construction of a luxury clubhouse and pool in a demarcated wetland in Fourways.

The enforcement authority has issued Mark Corbett, as the representative of Clidet 69, with a notice for noncompliance with the environmental authorisation it holds for the Helderfontein Estate — where Century Property Developments is selling stands — ordering all construction near the watercourses be stopped immediately. Corbett is the managing director of Century.

The Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development (GDARD) told the Mail & Guardian that the developer had incorrectly demarcated the wetland and its 32m buffer as well as the riparian and its buffer zone, contrary to the stipulations in the conditions of its environmental authorisation. 

A complainant notified the department at the beginning of January that Century was going ahead with construction within the area of concern in relation to the wetland buffer. 

“Following this complaint, an inspection was conducted by one of the department’s environmental management inspectors to ascertain the information,” said Nozipho Hlabangana, the spokesperson for the department.

On 12 January, the department issued Corbett with a notice of intention to issue a compliance notice, and to make representations to the department as to why a compliance notice should not be issued for the noncompliance observed on site, “of failing to correctly demarcate the watercourses and applicable buffer zones”, said Hlabangana.

“Following another complaint, the department conducted an inspection on 25 January to confirm if construction activities were continuing next to the dam. Construction activities were found to be continuing, which resulted in a verbal instruction to cease with the construction activities to be issued to the foreman.” 

On 26 January, a compliance notice was issued. This notice describes how, during the site inspection conducted by the department’s environmental management inspectors on 25 January, it was observed that the holder of the environmental authorisation was “conducting activities that may lead to irreversible environmental impacts”. 

“It is on this basis that the environmental management inspectors issued a verbal instruction to stop the construction activities. The instruction was issued to the person who was identified as a site foreman. The man refused to give his name to the environmental management inspectors,” the notice reads.

It describes how water was flowing in the trenches dug by the developer and that after sampling by the department’s wetland specialist, “it was established that the fence encroached on the wetland and its buffer”.

Last year, the M&G reported that Century and Riversands Development were suing Kristin Kallesen and her nonprofit organisation, the Greater Kyalami Conservancy (Gekco), for R197-million for the income they allegedly lost after Kallesen and Gekco raised “obstructive, delaying and frustrating” objections to their projects in Riversands and Helderfontein. According to the defendants, the lawsuit constitutes an abuse of process and strategic litigation against public participation, also known as a Slapp suit.

Kallesen and Gekco’s grounds of objections and appeals centred on, among other matters, wetland systems that run through the sites and connect to the Jukskei River, the high densities and coverage stemming from property encroaching into “soft soak” areas that recharge the wetland system, and that the sites are host to wildlife to which commercial infrastructure would pose a threat. 

Kallesen told the M&G this week: “Gekco and others lodged objections [with the City of Johannesburg] and attended a tribunal to highlight concerns for the wetlands and are being sued by Century Properties for these objections. 

“I attended a site visit with GDARD and Mr Corbett and a wetland specialist on 26 October 2021 where it was pointed out that they were marking out stands in the wetlands and I understood that they were asked to cease activity near the wetlands at that stage.” 

Century, Kallesen said, had continued construction despite this request, and in spite of the pre-compliance notice. “Environmental legislation to protect wetlands should be respected. Constructing homes in wetlands is not only destructive to the environment and harms critical water resources but is also costly for the future homeowner.” 

In 2018, the M&G reported that Century had to pay a R700 000 fine for building illegally. This came after a 2015 inspection by officials of the Gauteng agriculture and rural development department found that the company had built a wall for a polo field in a wetland without permission, which diverted the flow of water in a tributary to the Jukskei River.

In that matter, Corbett signed a letter, undertaking that no similar unlawful activity would take place in future without the department’s prior written approval and made a commitment to comply with the country’s environmental legislation.

Hlabangana said that based on the department’s records, there have been three administrative notices issued in respect of the Helderfontein development, “a pre-compliance notice in 2016 and two in 2022”.

Corbett told the M&G that a pre-compliance notice is not an instruction to stop work. “As per the notice they give you 30 days to respond to their queries,” he said. “If the department does not agree with your response, then they issue a compliance notice.

“Their pre-compliance notice relates to the wetland delineation and that we have set the buffer zone out incorrectly. After receiving the notice, we had a wetland specialist out and a land surveyor has since confirmed that the wetland buffer is in accordance with our current environmental authorisation.”

According to Corbett, what had occurred was “highly irregular … prior to the 30 days being up and before we are even afforded the opportunity to respond they [the department] issue a compliance notice, even though we had met them on site and indicated that we would respond within the 30 days. The department did not follow due process and I can only guess that it was due to Gekco who are trying to stop any and all development to protect their equestrian lifestyle.”

Building activities were underway next to a dam when an instruction was given to halt construction

Stands at Helderfontein, which is billed as a secure lifestyle estate, are selling for R1.66-million to R3.96-million.

Corbett maintained that the work at Helderfontein is in accordance with the current environmental approval granted by the department. 

Hlabangana said there was nothing irregular in the department’s conduct. “A compliance notice can be issued when it is assessed that a delay in issuing the compliance notice can result in significant and irreversible harm to the environment and this was highlighted in the compliance notice. This is why a verbal instruction to cease all activities was issued.”

According to the compliance notice, within seven days upon receipt of its letter, the developer must correctly demarcate the watercourses and the applicable buffer zones, as required in terms of the conditions of its environmental authorisation.

Within 14 days of receipt, it must submit a rehabilitation plan for the disturbed wetland areas for approval by the department. It must also submit an amended layout plan clearly depicting the watercourses and the buffer zones in accordance with the conditions of its environmental authorisation, and an updated environmental management programme report that is aligned to the amended layout plan, for approval by the department.

The compliance notice describes how it is an offence to contravene any condition applicable to the environmental authorisation as set out in terms of the National Environmental Management Act. 

“Upon conviction for such offence, a person may be liable to a fine not exceeding R10-million or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years or both such fine and such imprisonment.”

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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