While judgement has been reserved in the case brought by the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) Food and Farming Campaign against the City of Cape Town regarding permission granted for the development of land in the Philippi area, the spokesperson for the minister of environmental affairs and development planning in the Western Cape has said that the land concerned technically falls outside of what is known as the PHA. The spokesperson has also reaffirmed commitment to protecting the “core” of the PHA, saying that framework agreed to in April last year will not allow development to ruin the area.
“We are in court because quite some time ago – more than 10 years ago – two private landowners owned two small pieces of land, which technically fall outside of what is known as the PHA. Those people wanted to develop those pieces of land,” said spokesperson for the minister of local government’s department of environmental affairs and development planning, James-Brent Styan.
“The whole PHA was about 3200 hectares – about the size of a rugby or soccer field – 15 or 20 years ago… lots of this land has been viciously sand mined and there’s a lot of illegal dumping and a lot of encroachment onto the original piece of land by illegal informal settlements… At the moment, there’s a core area of about 1900 hectares and it’s been that way for a few years. That’s where all the farming happens and only about 65% of that core area is actively farmed.”
However, the department’s arguments, relating to a lack of farming activity in the PHA being a legitimate reason to allow the rezoning of land for mixed-use, have been shot down as “irrelevant” by the Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign.
The Food and Farming Campaign has argued that “the Constitutional Court ruling of 2008 says that it doesn’t matter whether that particular piece [of land] is being farmed or not – it’s agriculture zoned and it’s zoned like that for a reason. It has a particular climate and a particular water supply which is unique in certain areas…”
The campaign warned that once permission is granted for development there would be a slippery slope of development applications, ultimately leading to the remaining land being developed and a subsequent lack of agricultural land in the area.
“There comes a point at which an area is too small to be viable as a farming area. Once you start giving permissions for development you have a cascade of development applications – and we’re now at number six. So far, over a period of 10 years we’ve lost a third of the PHA…in another two years another third will be gone and then the rest will be gone… You’ll just end up with no agricultural land whatsoever.”
“The scary thing is that in this country, only 13% of land can be used to grow food and the PHA land is particularly drought proof because of the aquifer underneath it. You can’t replace that. Once you’ve paved that over…where are you going to find land to grow food on?”
However, Styan has stated that permission for development in the area is only granted under “strict conditions”.
“Permissions were granted under certain strict conditions, including protecting the underground water source in the event of development and including providing low-cost housing, schools and other facilities for the community,” he said.
“Not a millimetre of land that is actively being farmed is implicated or affected by this court action.”
“The Province and the City have made it clear that the core area where all farming is being done will never be developed – we’ve already protected it in April last year with the new Spatial Development Framework that was passed.”
Styan explained that the recent court proceedings were only to address whether the City followed due process in granting permission for development to the relevant private landowners in the area.
The court is not directly ruling on whether development may proceed in the concerned areas, according to Styan.
“It’s not about taking away farmland or changing the nature of the PHA – it’s about the process followed. Provincial government and the City believe we applied the law.”