/ 30 April 2023

Conserve historic Castle bowling green in Woodstock — study

Woodstock Main Road Dh 3364
Breathing space: In Woodstock, properties are small and few homeowners have gardens, a fact an urban park could alleviate. (David Harrison)

It would be a “lost opportunity” to conserve limited green space in the Cape Town suburb of Woodstock, should the city forge ahead with a planned housing development on the historic Castle bowling green, according to a social impact study.  

The study concluded that the bowling green should become part of an upgraded park and the 150 housing units the city had planned to build here — the Earl Street Social Housing Project — be subsumed into the 600-unit project planned for the former Woodstock Hospital across the road. 

Open space in densely populated areas, such as the Woodstock/Salt River area, “is a scarce, irreplaceable resource whose value will increase with time as the population grows and the demand and need for open spaces grow”, the authors said.

They noted that “the challenge and promise of public space takes on a historical dimension” in South Africa, in that the deficit in low-income areas that date from apartheid continues.

This is relevant to the decision regarding the Earl Street project, the authors said, because a survey of the existing public green space in the vicinity shows that it adds up to less than a quarter of the recommended international standard.

Apart from the Golders Green park directly above the bowling green —the report recommends that the two areas become part of an expanded, upgraded community park — the nearest green space is the Fairview Park, nearly 1km away. Its location on the suburb’s busy main streets makes it unsuitable for children. Another park, further away, is too small to be of significance.

“These three open spaces have a combined area of 15 689.2m2 or 1.57 hectares. This is 23% of the area recommended by the Accessible Natural Greenspace Standard for England,” the authors said. 

“The 1.57ha also represents only 42% of the open space required by the additional 3 700 new residents associated with the Old Woodstock Hospital and Earl Street Social Housing projects.”

It added: “Other parks in and around Woodstock (Trafalgar Park and Town Hall Park) are deemed unsafe.”

Therefore, building over the bowling green would “result in a lost opportunity for the [city] to provide more open space in an area where the need for safe, well-managed and maintained open space will increase”.

But the space — bordering the historical Melbourne Terrace in Earl Street — was also judged unsuitable in terms of heritage rules.

A housing project of up to three storeys would mean noise and a loss of views and sunlight and would probably drive down property prices, according to the report.

“The residents of Melbourne Terrace will also be impacted in terms of noise and the visual intrusion of having two-to-three-storey buildings developed on their back doorstep. 

“The views looking north from the properties located along Golders Green Street will also be impacted by the development of two-to-three-storey buildings.”

Residents have welcomed the report with relief. The community has consistently said it is not opposed to social housing in the area, including on the hospital site, but against its construction on the bowling green and raised their concerns with the city.

When the city’s affordable housing prospectus for the inner-city precinct identified the Woodstock Hospital and Earl Street — the bowling green — for social housing in 2017, it did so without consultation with residents. 

“Based on the findings of the [study] the local civic organisations and general public were not involved in and or consulted during the site selection process,” reads the study, despite the significant impact such development would have on the local infrastructure. 

The residential population in upper Woodstock would increase twofold should the Earl Street and Woodstock project continue. 

Nearly 750 housing units are proposed for the two sites which equates to about 2 775 new households added to the nearly 3 000 existing households in Ward 57. The ward recorded a 37% population growth to more than 33 000 people between 2001 and 2011, according to the latest census. 

The assessment reads further: “Given the strategic location of ward 57 and its proximity to employment opportunities and transport routes, this trend is likely to have continued between 2011 and 2022,” which “will place pressure on existing services (water, wastewater treatment and emergency services) and amenities like open public spaces”.

Furthermore, schools in the Woodstock and Salt River areas have reached full capacity with five primary and four high schools where the average number of children per class is more than 30. The majority of schools also lack sufficient space for sports facilities.

The study found that “no plans have been put in place to increase the capacity of existing schools or build new schools” and continued: “The closure of the clinic at the Woodstock Hospital has also highlighted the need for a local clinic.”

“These aspects do not appear to have been fully addressed or considered when the Old Woodstock Hospital and Earl Street sites were identified and earmarked for social housing,” the study found.

Even without using the bowling green, the authors noted, the social housing developments likely to proceed will double the number of inhabitants of the area.

“There are approximately 800 existing households in upper Woodstock area, which equates to more or less 3 000 residents. The development of social housing at the Woodstock Hospital and Earl Street sites would therefore almost double the current population of the area.”

In light of the findings, the assessment recognised the value of social housing in the area and supported social housing development at the Woodstock Hospital as “the site is already developed and would not result in the loss of open space that can benefit the community”.

However, the impact study does recommend that the area must be considered within the context of where and how much is appropriate in the area. 

The findings of the social impact assessment, together with the broader heritage impact assessment, are understood to advise the local spatial development framework which is not yet completed.