GEORGE NEWS - An extensive boundary wall (on Erf 19/158) in Wilderness Heights, erected without municipal building plans, has the Wilderness and Lakes Environmental Action Forum (Waleaf) up in arms.
The fact that an application has subsequently been submitted to the George Municipality to approve a departure in terms of the height restrictions of the wall that was erected without approval, is "ridiculous", says Waleaf secretary Charles Scott.
George Municipality confirmed that the application has been submitted and the public has till 20 July to comment.
Scott says, "It seems ridiculous to solicit comment on the height of a wall when the wall itself has no planning approvals that we are aware of. This sends the wrong message to the public and creates a rather dubious impression of the local authorities."
The wall encircles almost the entire three-hectare property. Scott says any development on the property should also have been regulated by the Outeniqua Sensitive Coastal Act (Osca) and the issuance of the relevant permits prior to any development.
He says walls or impenetrable barriers of any sort should be limited to the proximity of buildings on the smallholdings and not around the entire perimeter of properties.
Says Mike Leggatt, a Wilderness Heights resident: "Wilderness Heights has seen significant development in the recent past and many locals are concerned about the lack of law enforcement in the Planning Department. Of particular concern is the issue of perimeter fencing, and more recently, the erection of solid and impenetrable walls.
These walls fundamentally change the sense of place of the area. Ostensibly they put the proverbial cart before the horse as far as forward-planning is concerned. There are visions enshrined in local policy documents, and the visual and environmental fragmentation of landscapes by ad hoc development of this nature is certainly not one of them. It creates a sense of urbanisation in a predominantly rural area and sets a precedent based on a development that has no municipal approval."
According to Delia Power, George Municipality's acting director of Planning and Development, the municipality became aware of the illegal wall after being alerted by a neighbouring property owner in August last year. A notice was immediately issued to the owner, demanding of the offender to rectify the contravention.
"Rectify can mean to either remove or demolish the illegal structure or to submit application in an attempt to legalise the structure," says Power. "The municipality may not refuse a land owner the right to submit an application."
A building plan was subsequently submitted, but it was discovered that the wall was in conflict with the zoning scheme by-law and the owner had to submit an application for departure before further consideration would be given to the building plan.
Power confirmed that the wall is also in breach of the Osca regulations. "Had the owner submitted an application to obtain a permit prior to construction, the municipality would have been in a position to assess the impacts of the structure and its compliance with the applicable local spatial development framework.
The merits of the land use application and its compliance with the prevailing spatial plans for the area will be assessed during the evaluation of the application. Should it be required, further litigation in terms of the National Building Regulations and the Osca regulations can only start once a decision on the land use application has been taken," says Power.
She confirmed that the rural character of the Wilderness Heights area is honoured in the Wilderness/Lakes/Hoekwil local spatial development framework and applications submitted in this area are evaluated against the objectives and guidelines prescribed in the framework as well as the objectives of the Municipal Spatial Development Framework.
However, many landowners are oblivious of these objectives and the by-laws applicable to their land.
"The committed surveillance of established local community members and groups assists the municipality to partner with communities and residents in the application of the spatial vision designed by and for these communities and the environments served by the strategies they deliver."
Concern over wildlife
Resident Arne Witt raised concern over the number of bushbuck and other wildlife being killed by fences. "These walls and fences lead to all sorts of inherent problems for wildlife on Wilderness Heights and elsewhere. Without the ability to move freely and interbreed, wildlife populations will not survive in the long term.
This movement also plays a fundamental role in spreading biodiversity and helps to maintain a healthy ecosystem. The need for wildlife corridors is critical if we want to sustain wildlife within peri-urban landscapes. We would like to see the municipality taking decisive action on this issue before it is too late. Being asked to comment on the height of this wall is nothing more than a slap in the face to local residents."
'Right to fence in property'
Jan Vrolijk, the independent town planner who lodged the application on behalf of the land owner, says he was under the impression that the wall had been approved by the municipality and had been assured by the draftsman that this was the case.
"Any owner has the right to fence in his property. People are more security conscious. In this case, the wall does not affect the rural character of the area as seen from the tourism route as it is located far in from the main road."
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