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Tuesday, 4 March 2014

CBRRA Chair: Protecting Camps Bay's Public Land and Green belt


The main topic that will be addressed tonight is one that appears to be a difference between 2 major stakeholders in Camps Bay – the Camps Bay Prep School (CBPS) and the Camps Bay Bowling Club (CBBC). This can generally be described as an effort to gain more land on the School’s part and the resistance thereto by the Bowling Club. However, this extends far beyond the competing partys’ aspirations and ultimately affects all the ratepayers and residents of Camps Bay - and by extension, all the citizens of Cape Town.

I am referring to the proposed cancellation of the CBBC lease by the City of Cape Town and the negotiation of a new lease with the Provincial Government of the Western Cape (PGWC) for the use by the Western Cape Education Department. This is to facilitate the expansion of the CBPS.
Now on the face of it, it appears to be fairly straightforward: The Prep School is turning away prospective pupils due to space constraints. The Bowling Club has a piece of land that is currently used as a parking area which could be better utilized. However, the matter is more complicated than that.

I’ll sketch a brief history of events to better understand how this matter has evolved:
Representatives of the CBPS approached the CBBC in mid to late 2010 to discuss the possible utilization of a portion of Bowling Club leased land. Although there appears to have been some consensus, nothing came of this. In any event, around June 2011, the school made a formal proposal to the City that the Bowling Club lease be cancelled due to alleged breach of the lease agreement by the club and that the land be made available to the school. The City subsequently investigated the CBBC and inspected its books, audits and operational methods. This proved a lengthy and exhaustive process but by Oct 2012, the City’s Mayco member for Community Services, Tandeka Gqada declared that the CBBC was considered a club in good standing and that its lease would remain in place and that the matter was considered closed by the City.

In the interim, about June 2012, a grouping calling itself the Concerned Parents Group came into being to lobby for the expansion of the School and assist the representatives of the School in what was now an attempt to annex the entire piece of land leased by the Bowling Club. This group organized a protest gathering outside the club in Jan 2013 but was more active in garnering political support from the top echelons of the DA – viz the Premier’s Office. But more of that later.
In amongst all of this, the CBRRA attempted to broker a solution to the matter that would have seen the Prep School sub-leasing a portion of the Bowling Club leased land. This initiative was supported by Cllr Marga Haywood and MPL Mark Wiley. Johan van Papendorp of CBRRA Manco did basic sketches of the shared proposal, using the existing parking lot for additional classrooms and formal parking, which appeared to find favour with all parties. However, the matter stalled – with both sides claiming fault on the part of the other. For the purposes of progress, this was of course extremely unhelpful.

I’ll give you 2 examples from either side:

  • The school has a high number of pupils enrolled who do not live in the area. This might be true but that is a matter with which the school must deal and the CBRRA accepts that there is a need to expand the campus.
  • The Bowling Club was rumoured to have only about 30 members and had to borrow players from other clubs to make up competitive teams. Actually, the club has over a hundred members, is the only bowling club in the WP that is growing its membership and has over thirty players who compete in WP open competitions. This doesn’t of course include the social players. 

The main thrust of the School is that the CBBC has stalled negotiations – but given that the School made an official appeal to the City in August 2011 to cancel the CBBC lease, it cannot be argued that the School were negotiating in good faith. Effectively, the School were asking the Bowling Club to negotiate its own demise, which is nonsensical.

But, as I said, this is not helpful when we are attempting to address the real needs of two important community bodies in our village.

In late 2012, reps of the school and CPG lobbied DA parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuka and shadow finance minister, Tim Harris, to support their cause. Following on this, in April 2013, a meeting was held with Premier Zille, the school and MEC Robin Carlisle. The Premier indicated her support for the school and suddenly, the City’s mayoral committee seemed to change its tune and was now interested in selling off the land to the Province.

Alarmed by this level of political interference in local civic matters – and given that here had been no reference of this matter to the community of Camps Bay – the CBRRA addressed a letter to Premier Zille on 23 June 2013, seeking her support in reaching a sensible, community-based solution. The CBRRA has not been accorded the courtesy of a reply from the premier’s office, which is concerning to say the least.

However, CBRRA continued to attempt to broker an eleventh hour settlement. To this end, a new sketch plan was drawn up that provided for 4 new classrooms, a play area and a proposal that the entire building containing the pub area be annexed by the school. The Bowling Club would retain the current hall, the 2 bowling greens and receive a portion of dedicated parking. The club would also be entitled to construct a new lounge area adjacent to the sea side green. The CBBC agreed to this “partitioning” and a representative of the school indicated that this could be acceptable.

Despite all of this, at the end of last year the city advertised a proposal for the alienation of the entire area, the cancellation of the CBBC lease and the lease of the property to the PGWC.

As an aside, I can tell you that the proposal to sell the land to the Province came to nothing when the City assessed the land value at about R45m. It appears that the School and the Education Department want the land and all of the improvements made by the CBBC over the years – but they don’t want to pay for it. Hence, the lease option. In this scenario, once the land is rezoned away from public open space and the school has erected a few buildings on the site, then the land won’t have a hefty price tag and it is almost certain that the land will possibly be expropriated and sold to the province at a more affordable level. And one can only surmise what the Education Department will do with over 6000m2 of valuable land in central Camps Bay ….  but a guess would be to assess that the school only needs half and that the other half can be sold to “raise funds”. It will be, after all, the PGWC’s land, to do with what it wants.

The CBRRA has submitted a substantive objection to the advertised proposal, warning of the perils of unilateral disposal of public open space land, the obstacles that would be faced in the re-zoning process and then motivating for the partitioned option as a win-win solution. One must also be mindful that the Bowling Club also hosts many other community activities such as karate, Pilates, exercise classes, functions, etc.

We understand that a report has been drawn up by the City officials but not when it will be discussed by the City – or which committee will discuss it. Clearly, CBRRA want the report tabled at the Good Hope Subcouncil, where there is effective local representation – and where the various parties can make oral submissions - but it might simply be referred to the Mayoral Committee, where there is little chance for meaningful debate and no opportunity to make oral representations.

Most recently, the CBRRA requested a meeting with all 3 Camps Bay schools to discuss the matter. The Schools declined. A further request was directed at the Schools 12 days ago. They haven’t responded to date and the CBRRA is concerned that they are merely relying on political patronage.

This lead to the real point of this issue:

If the City, due to political pressure from up high, can dispose of a sustainable sporting club, with a valid, legal lease and deprive the community of scarce public open space – then who or what is next. It is not unlikely that if this happens, someone will speak in the ear of a suitably influential politician and a case will be made to expropriate the soccer field, or the park, or the tennis club or, in fact, any other piece of public land. Once matters are taken away from public scrutiny and community opinion is ignored, as is happening in the Bowling Club case, then base greed will determine our future and the highest bidder will control the future of our community facilities and land. Please remember, the City doesn’t own this land – it manages it on behalf and at the behest of the people.

I will open this matter to the floor for comment but before so doing, will just emphasis a few points in conclusion:

  • The CBRRA is committed to the better utilization of the land, which will mean that both the CBBC and the CBPS share the property on a partitioned basis. This will benefit the community whilst also retaining the unique nature of the land. It will also provide a tremendous synergy with old and young alike sharing community land.
  • The CBRRA believes that it is necessary to preserve the only real community hall in the village – with all the associated activities that it attracts such as the karate, etc. mentioned earlier.
  • The CBRRA wants co-operative solutions that involve the community and its needs and requirements. CBRRA appeals to all ratepayers and residents to get involved in such important issues. It is vital that the progress of the various stakeholders in Camps Bay benefits the community as a whole and doesn’t happen at the cost of the community.
  • A major concern is that any unilateral approval of the proposal by the City will lead to protracted legal challenges. In this scenario, it is likely that both parties will be considerably weakened (the CBBC will probably lose - or not gain new – members and residents of Camps Bay will need to send their children to other schools out of the area).
  • This might result in the entire property only having development value – and we all know what that means.
  • If necessary, the CBRRA will organize an on-line petition and press involvement to expose the political interference and un-democratic processes followed in this matter.

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