National 23.8.2016 04:46 pm

PMB High Court rules in favour of wetland park

Lake St Lucia, the estuarine lake at the heart of isimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site. Picture: South Coast Herald.

Lake St Lucia, the estuarine lake at the heart of isimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site. Picture: South Coast Herald.

The landmark decision confirms that World Heritage Site and National Park managers have authority and jurisdiction in the surrounding buffer zones.

A High Court judgement confirming that World Heritage Site and National Park managers have authority and jurisdiction in the surrounding buffer zones has put paid to a holiday home development on the banks of iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s Mgoboseleni Lake, reports the South Coast Herald.

According to an iSimangaliso press release, Judge Daya Pillay handed down a landmark decision in the Pietermaritzburg High Court last week in favour of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs, Sihle Zikalala.

ALSO READ: Additional environmental protection for iSimangaliso

This was against Feasey Property Group (Pty) Ltd, Matayo Trading 137 (Pty) Ltd, Vusisizwe Technical Operations (Pty) Ltd, Geoffrey Clifford Little, Don Chandler, and Johan Viljoen.

The wetland park was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1999 because of its global beauty, its unique ecosystems and its biodiversity.

The development at the heart of the dispute abuts the proclaimed iSimangaliso Sodwana Bay section and overlooks Lake Mgobeseleni and pristine wilderness. These are integral parts of an important, complex estuarine lake system connected to an estuary by a stream that flows through rare swamp forest and mangroves.

The Mgoboseleni Estuary is considered extremely important as a nursery area for estuarine-dependent marine species. The estuarine lake also has a breeding population of crocodiles and hippopotami.

The park includes some 467-listed threatened species. The wetland park had been engaging with Feasey Property Group and its representative, Little, since 2010 when he first proposed the holiday home development. Little was advised to secure the necessary permission that included an environmental impact assessment. But he disregarded iSimangaliso’s inputs and proceeded to sell sites to the public.

ALSO READ: iSimangaliso Wetland Park threatened by drought

In late 2014, without any permissions, two of his buyers began construction. Little, Chandler and Viljoen received notices from iSimangaliso, requesting that they stop development. These, too, were disregarded. The park had to approach the courts for assistance in December 2014.

Interim orders were issued and reconfirmed in March 2015, December 2015 and March 2016, ordering that no further selling or development take place. The matter was finally heard this month. The developers have until December 31 to vacate the properties, after which they are required to rehabilitate the sites. They have also been directed to pay the costs of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority.

“This protection action is a necessary step by iSimangaliso in the fulfilment of its, and South Africa’s, commitments to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to protect this global jewel,” said iSimangaliso chief executive Andrew Zaloumis.

He said the intention of the protection action had not been aimed at disenfranchising people who had historical and legitimate rights, but rather to remove people who had attempted to appropriate rights that were not theirs and had not been taken up legally. Unauthorised developments in and adjacent to the park placed the whole park and its world heritage status at risk, he said.

Buffer zones were a key element for the conservation of World Heritage properties and a Unesco requirement, he explained. They were also required by the World Heritage Convention and Protect Areas Acts. They also added a necessary additional layer of protection and sought to protect important aspects of biodiversity.

Caxton News Service

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