THE DARGLE CONSERVANCY'S POSITION ON DEVELOPMENT
The Dargle Conservancy's framework vision is set out below:
The Dargle Conservancy takes as it’s starting point the Conservation Plan established by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, which indicates that the Dargle area rates amongst the highest in KZN in terms of irreplaceable biodiversity. The Dargle, and much of the uMngeni Municipality area, contains the highly endangered Moist Mistbelt Grasslands, which is has been transformed, and much of it lost, at an alarming rate, along with the loss of species associated with it. In addition, KZN’s most important river (for both industry and drinking water), the uMngeni, rises at uMngenivlei just to the northwest of the Dargle, and winds its way through the Dargle.
As landowners in this important area, we believe we have to accept the responsibility as default custodians of the area, and we have a duty of care to make every effort to at least maintain the status quo, and where possible, to improve upon it.
The Vision, Mission Statement, and Objectives of the Dargle Conservancy constitution have all been formulated with this in mind.
Thoughts on Development
When first faced with development issues, analysis showed that it is an extremely complex situation, and the Conservancy committee did not enter into the matter lightly. It was decided from the outset to be objective, positive, proactive, principled and professional, and the total situation was investigated in a holistic manner. Our constitution tasks us with dealing with issues of biodiversity and sense of place, and it was felt that action was needed.
Anyone has the right to submit an application to develop, and equally, anyone has the right to oppose such an application if they believe that it has potential negative implications. The Conservancy believes that mass residential housing estates pose huge potential negative implications for the especially endangered mistbelt grassland biome in which we live, as well as the unique sense of place. This sense of place is what drew most of us here to live, and is a major drawcard that supports the economically viable Midlands Meander, which is also a major factor in the livelihoods of several landowners and residents in the region.
Studies have indicated that agriculture and tourism are the main drivers, and the best potential creators for economic development in the uMngeni Municipality area, and accordingly, in all of it’s dealings with regard to development issues to date, the Dargle Conservancy has consistently maintained its position that, due to the importance of tourism and agriculture to the entire municipal region, any development has a potential cumulative impact on the entire region, and needs to be carefully evaluated in terms of this broader perspective. The Conservancy believes we have a responsibility in contributing toward the shape and form of planning in the area to what we believe to be to the best benefit of all, including and especially with regard to aspects that impact on biodiversity.
We wish to make it clear that we are not against development. Development is a fact of life and is necessary for socio-economic development. We are against what we believe to be inappropriate development, ie. development that negatively impacts on biodiversity and sense of place of the area, and hence negatively impacts on tourism, and development falling outside of already determined development nodes as laid out in the uMngeni Municipality’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP) and the Land Use Management System. The IDP and LUMS zones in the Dargle area incorporate:
- Agriculture and High Intensity Tourism
- Agriculture and Medium Intensity Tourism
- Agriculture and Eco Tourism
- Agriculture only
There is a lot of history, not only in South Africa, but worldwide, that provided case studies, and hence guidance when considering the potential negative cumulative effects of inappropriate development in the wrong places.
(Note: The Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning produced the “Rapid Review on Golf Course and Polo Field Developments”. They are concerned about the proliferation of these “estates” in the Western Cape, (40 golf courses in 250kms, with 14 more applications). The uncontrolled planning which allowed the situation to occur, with several undesirable social and environmental consequences, is now being reviewed.
Other examples are Dullstroom, the north and south KZN coast, Clarens in the Free State (seven golf estate applications are pending), several areas of the West Coast in the Cape, as well as the Gauteng area.)
This research convinced us that the “estatification” of Dargle was a problem, and indicated the potential scope of the problem. This history also indicated a clue as to why this area is now being targeted. It would seem that other areas of beauty have been used up, and are now less marketable, so the relatively untouched Dargle region has been pinpointed as “prime investment” material.
From the outset we consulted widely in an attempt to ascertain exactly what factors were involved. This nationwide consultation, as well as international research, convinced us that there is a growing groundswell of discontent at the “estatification” of rural, and usually high biodiversity value areas. There have been TV programmes and numerous newspaper articles, and we have had similar reactions from the National Conservancies Association and other conservation bodies.
It was therefore decided to base the approach upon principle issues, and not on personal, subjective grounds, as the ramifications of inappropriate development spread far beyond any single development application. This approach was also deemed necessary due to the potential of future applications that would need to be addressed.
The Conservancy proactively engaged with the uMngeni Municipality with regard to planning issues, and has maintained an ongoing presence, in planning and development issues with the Municipality. We are represented on the Land Use Management System steering committee, as well as the Integrated Development Plan representative forum, and we work closely with neighbouring conservancies, having established the Midlands Conservancies Forum, and other bodies such as the Midlands Meander, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife etc, as well as liaising with DWAF and Umgeni Water. We are also in touch with the relevant planning authorities, such as the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs & Rural Development, the Department of Co-operative Government & Traditional Affairs, and the Department of Agriculture.
As a matter of interest, we have been approached and have given advice to a number of other conservancies (from around the country) on their respective development issues. This fact, and comments from the development authorities all appear to validate our stance taken, and the Conservancy will still be adopting a proactive attitude towards monitoring inappropriate development.
As an organization comprising members who hold a common interest in biodiversity issues, which, by definition have no geographic boundaries, we have never sought to fix a physical, cadasteral boundary to the Dargle, and there is no legislation that compels us to do so. We have members not only in the Dargle, but also in Howick, Petrustroom and Balgowan, as well as interest and support from organizations throughout South Africa (WESSA, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, KZN Wildlands Conservation Trust, Tourism KZN, Endangered Wildlife Trust, KZN Crane Foundation, Botanical Society of SA, KZN Conservancies Association, Gauteng Conservancies Association, Midlands Meander Association, DUCT, to name but a few.)
The way forward
The Conservancy has always looked to be proactive and positive and we wish to progress with the intention of building community spirit and increasing the awareness of our special biodiversity through education and participation. More importantly, we wish to engender a sense of responsible guardianship of the irreplaceable biodiversity that surrounds us, through adopting a policy of “wise use by all, for all”.
(Committee member: Development Monitoring
Latest facts on development in the Dargle, extracted from the Chairs's 2011 annual report:
In last year’s Chairman’s report I reported that there was little action on this front, which we put down to the global economic woes. However, much like the advance of the Earth Overshoot Day, this past year has seen an increase again in the number of development issues that we have been engaged in.
- The uMngeni Municipality has finally resurrected its attempt to finalize the Land Use Management Scheme (LUMS) after it stalled 4 years ago, also just before the municipal elections then. The Conservancy has attended and has submitted input to the LUMS steering committee, for the new process. The latest draft LUMS is more or less the same as the previous draft LUMS of 4 years ago, although with the new Planning & Development Act having been introduced, there have been some worthwhile additions which we salute, as they can only be beneficial to the cause of trying to look after the environment. However, once again the Municipality has left things late, and with the elections, and possible new councilors, we may well have to start the process again.
- Highgate Wine Estate. This development proposal at Piggly Wiggly entailed the establishment of a wine farm, winery, boutique hotel, expanded shopping node, and, initially 57 houses, although the developer dropped to a final application of 26 houses. The Conservancy registered as an Interested and Affected Party, and in keeping with our consistent stance, made submissions indicating that the residential component was contrary to the draft Rural LUMS. We know that Dept of Agriculture, both national and provincial, also objected on the same grounds. The development received a favourable Record of Decision, which we appealed and reiterated the fact that it was clearly contrary to the LUMS. The Midlands Meander Association also appealed on procedural grounds. The MEC has subsequently, based on the MMA’s appeal, set aside the Record of Decision, and our understanding is that all is in abeyance for now while the documents submitted for the assessment process are being reviewed by the DAEA&RD.
- Petrustroom Mountain Biking Academy. The Conservancy was asked by the Dept of COGTA to make comment on an application for the development of a mountain Bike training academy opposite the sawmill in Petrustroom. As you’re aware, the Conservancy welcomes this sort of activity, however, it appeared that the proposal was a thinly disguised attempt to also include 7 houses. Again, based on our consistent stance, we submitted comment that we welcomed the mountain biking facility, but that the housing component was also contrary to the LUMS. We’re awaiting the outcome.
- Gill Addison and Barry Downard both attended a workshop on EIA procedures and issues held by the KZN Conservancies Association.
- Gill Addison has been monitoring the Eskom Ariadne Venus Powerline EIA. It looks likely that the yellow route option, through the Dargle, will be dropped. The process is still at the draft scoping report stage.
- The Wedding and Conference venue at St Ives (which gained approval in 2004) is now in the process of applying for revision of the original Record of Decision, and applying for additional infrastructure/roads/wedding chapel/expanded restaurant and parking facilities. The Conservancy has registered as an I&AP and will be assessing and submitting comment.
I am aware that there are concerns from residents (members and non members) that the Conservancy is anti development, progress and job creation. We are most certainly not and I would like to point out to those folks that we live in an area where largely the biodiversity is deemed to have the highest level of irreplaceability by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and we believe that the onus is on us as landowners to do what we can to at least try and maintain the status quo, if not improve it. To this end, the committee endeavours to keep on top of issues of what we deem to be inappropriate development
I hope I speak on behalf of the majority of our membership when I extend thanks to Barry Downard and Gill Addison for the thoroughness with which they have taken on this onerous portfolio.
In the coming year it is our intention to encourage the new councilors to finalize and present the LUMS for adoption early in their new term of office. We believe that as a community conservation organization we need to approach the issue of development at policy level where we have input into the relevant process such as LUMS and the IDP. If we are successful (are we ever not I hasten to add) our role will become more a matter of ensuring that the correct procedures are followed and that all the various government departments do their best to ensure their respective mandates are properly carried out in the best way to ensure a healthy balance between developmental needs and the environment. We should not be the proverbial ham in the sandwich but merely an interested and affect party ensuring that due process is being followed.
extracted from report of Chair to 2011 AGM
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