Don’t mall our Princess

The story so far…

The shadow of the mall was first cast over the Princess Vlei in 1998, when Insight Property Developers made bid to buy the land from the City. At that time, the vlei had been degraded after years of neglect by the City authorities. This neglect began in the sixties, a symptom of the apartheid city managers’ callous disregard for the living environment of ‘coloured residents.’ It was made worse when Prince George Drive was built and rubble dumped around the vlei.

Developing the mall depended on subdividing, rezoning and selling the land. In 2002, Insight successfully applied for the land to be rezoned as commercial. In 2002, the Environmental Affairs and Development Planning issued a Record of Decision (RoD), valid for 4 years, setting out the environmental conditions that would have to be met by the developer.

In 2008, after a three year study established that the vlei contained Cape Flats Dune Strandveld and Sand Fynbos, which were unique to the area, the Cape Town Biodiversity Network declared it part of the Biodiversity Network. Local community member and conservationist, Kelvin Cochrane, partnered with SANBI and the City to lead a project to rehabilitate the vlei called ‘Dressing the Princess’. This included planting indigenous fynbos, removing alien plants, creating walkways and cleaning litter.

In 2009, Insight Property Developers applied to have the rezoning and RoD extended. The community rallied behind efforts to save the vlei, and opposed this. Based on public opposition and an environmental assessment, the Spatial Planning Committee reversed their original recommendation and urged the City of Cape Town not to support the development. They declined to extend the commercial rezoning of the Vlei, thereby effectively putting an end to the developer’s bid.

In April 2012, the Western Cape Provincial Government ignored public opinion, and overturned the Spatial Planning Committee’s decision. The rezoning was extended, enabling the developer to continue with his bid. In response to this, concerned community members and environmentalists formed the Princess Vlei Forum to protect the vlei from this development, and to fight for the right of communities to decide on how our city’s natural resources should be used.

In September 2012, after years of investigation, Kelvin Cochrane uncovered irregularities and possible fraud in the development bid process. These were brought to the attention of the City in a meeting with Councillor Jeremiah Thuynsma, Chairperson of Subcouncil 9 and a member of SPELUM. The evidence has been taken to both the National Prosecuting Authority and People’s Protector, who are investigating the matter.

On 30 September, MEC Bredell was quoted in the City Press as saying that the city had “made a mistake” in selling the land.

In February 2013, Cochrane laid charges of fraud against developers involved in the shopping mall bid (see Fraud charges laid against developers). This case is still being investigated by the Hawks. In July, in response to a query from our lawyers, the Mayor’s office indicated that the sale of the land would only proceed once these charges had been investigated and resolved.

Since that time, The PVF has held numerous meetings and community events on the vlei, and continued with efforts to rehabilitate the vlei. Thousands of people have signed the petition against the mall, written letters, and voiced their opposition. We have repeatedly asked for a meeting with the Mayor, but are still waiting.

The forum has also developed The People’s Plan, to illustrate how the Vlei could be developed to honour its historical, cultural and environmental significance and to serve our community for generations to come. In March this year, we put forward a proposal to the World Design Capital 2014 to consolidated and develop this plan through a process of community consultation. This was shortlisted in the first round of assessment, and earmarked as a model for aspiring entrants. See Imagine Princess Vlei on WDC shortlist!.