A group of Hout Bay residents is threatening legal action against the City of Cape Town in the event of a proposed emergency housing site above the cemetery on Hout Bay Road being established.
While today, Friday September 15, is the closing date for public objections to the proposal, the newly-registered Hout Bay Ratepayers’ Association believes use of the site will create health and safety risks, both to the envisaged 200 households living there as well as residents living in the adjacent suburbs.
Last month, the City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority applied to council to declare the site above the cemetery, Erf 1459, for an urgent housing application in terms of the Municipal Planning By-law. The City-owned land is currently zoned as public open space (“Hout Bay Road site tagged for emergency housing,” Sentinel, September 1).
The Hout Bay Ratepayers’ Association, overseen by a core group of 10 and intending to represent 5 500 ratepayers, was registered with the City on Friday September 8. These residents say they want to represent the interests of all Hout Bay’s communities, particularly in respect of proper housing for all.
A day prior to the group’s registration, a small group of residents occupied the site to protest the felling of a stand of blue gum trees, arguing that the objection window had not yet closed and the City’s actions were illegal. However, the City said its parks department was within its rights to cut down trees and did not require permission to do so.
Group representative Garth Dil said the “main threat” to the people who would live on the new site was that there was only one exit and entry point to the cul-de-sac where it has been proposed.
“Just imagine it is 8am, we have a school over the road with 1 500 people, we have parents dropping their kids off in cars, the road is already blocked with taxis stopping there, Main Road (Hout Bay Road) is already blocked all the way down to the Imizamo Yethu traffic circle, then we have a fire at that time of the morning. Where are people going to go?” he said.
“So there is a massive risk to safety and security. Yet we have met with the City, and town planners have told us that you need to have two entrance/exits, but they are not giving us that. We’ve only got one with this plan.”
The group has also expressed concern over the health implications that could result from the establishment of the new site.
“At Dontse Yakhe, water gets thrown into the road, which goes into the stormwater. This then goes all the way down Hughenden and it pops out at the bottom. When it rains or at any other time when it’s wet, the manhole at the bottom pops open and all that grey water goes into the cemetery area.
“At Riverside Terrace, we’ve done laboratory tests on the groundwater and found very high levels of Salmonella and E coli. Toxic blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, grew in the concrete-lined stormwater channel above our property, which collects the constant water seepage from beneath the cemetery and Hout Bay Road. This would possibly occur in the proposed playground area on the emergency housing site.”
The group has met with mayor Patricia de Lille to address these concerns, but said she had told them the City was “skipping steps” because housing and accommodating people displaced by the fire and superblocking process was an emergency.
An additional concern is that generations of Hout Bay residents are buried in the cemetery, including many residents of Hangberg.
“The Hangberg community is aware of what is planned for above the cemetery, and we are expecting that there will be formal objections from them. We have been told by some families that they are very upset about this development, as everything that comes down the slope will wash down into the cemetery. We are also concerned that people will simply walk through the cemetery as a short cut. The City hasn’t done their homework.”
The group has proposed an alternative for an emergency housing site in the form of the 14 600m2 depot area.
“The mayor even told us that the depot site would resolve 90% of our problems last week. The positive thing is that if we don’t use the site above the cemetery, we will save all that money, all the infrastructure that we have to put in. If we use the depot site, all the infrastructure that we put in now, we can reuse and we don’t have to re-establish what it used to be before.”
The City had raised the point that displaced residents in the emergency displacement area (EDA) at the Hout Bay Sports Complex could not be expected to remain there any longer, as the area fell in the 100-year flood plain. However, the group said there was more chance of a fire at the new site than a flood on the field.
“If a fire breaks out at the proposed emergency site, people will not be able to get out.”
The group is enlisting the services of several legal representatives to look at the case.
“We are putting the City on notice that we will be objecting in the strongest possible terms to this plan, and, consequently, we will be pursuing a legal route. With the right expertise, we will prove this land is not suitable and it is a major safety and security issue. We will not be taking this sitting down.”
Hangberg Peace and Mediation Forum secretary, Warren Abrahams, said he was aware that some residents whose forebears were buried in the cemetery were not happy about the plan.
“We have heard about it, and we will be investigating on behalf of these residents. We need to establish exactly why they are upset, and once this has been done, we will engage the City,” he said.
Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, acknowledged there was one formal vehicle entrance for the site.
“However, people would be able to vacate the site on foot onto Hughenden Street that abuts two sides of the site. The perimeter length of these sides is about 200m,” he said.
“In the unfortunate event of a fire on site, once people exit the site, they will be able to go up Hughenden Street towards the mountain or down towards either Whittlers Way or Hout Bay Main Road. Hughenden Street is not a cul-de-sac in the normal sense of the word as people residing in more than 150 houses take access off this road. Thus, people housed on the site would be able to move away from a potential fire on the site (should that occur), along Hughenden Street, with relative ease.”
Addressing the water concerns, he said there were no exposed water bodies or streams on the site.
“There is thus no probability that the residents who are temporarily located on the site will be exposed to any bacteria.”
Zara Nicholson, Ms De Lille’s spokeswoman, said the residents’ claim that the mayor told them she was a skipping steps was “a lie”.
“The mayor did not say this,” she said. “The mayor said that all three sites would contribute to solving the problem – the Disa site, the depot site and the triangle site as well as the formal housing project which will deliver 558 opportunities which we started in February 2017.”