Blow for Woodstock social housing plans

Tribunal overturns Heritage Western Cape decision to allow development at the Earl Street site

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The contested site in Earl Street, Woodstock, where the City of Cape Town planned to develop social housing is currently open space. Photo: Matthew Hirsch

  • An independent tribunal last week overturned a Heritage Western Cape decision to allow social housing to be developed at the Earl Street site in Woodstock.
  • The tribunal said that the property was of significant heritage value.
  • The City says it is now considering its options.

The decision by Heritage Western Cape (HWC) to green-light social housing at the Earl Street site, adjacent to the former Woodstock Hospital, was overturned by an independent tribunal last week.

The City of Cape Town wants to develop 160 social housing units at the Earl Street site, along with 700 units at the adjacent former Woodstock Hospital.

HWC decided in September to allow the social housing development to proceed, subject to the necessary building plans being approved. Woodstock residents lodged an appeal against the decision with the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport in November. After a process that included a site visit by tribunal members in January, the tribunal overturned the Heritage Western Cape’s decision.

The decision by the tribunal means that no social housing will be built at the Earl Street site.

The ruling on 6 May reads: “It must be said upfront that no member of the Tribunal denies the very real and urgent need for social housing and that this housing should be well integrated into the existing urban fabric of the city.

“That said, it is understood that several sites in the suburb of Woodstock have been identified for the development of social housing and there has been no opposition to the use of such open spaces to provide social housing units.”

The tribunal described the Earl Street property as “significant” and as a “place where people of all races could gather freely under the apartheid regime.” The clubhouse was used as a polling station in the first democratic elections in 1994.

The residents who brought the case to the tribunal welcomed the decision in a statement. They said their position was supported by other residents of Woodstock, who did not formally take part in the tribunal process but “wish to preserve the bowling green as a public utility”, said Cathleen Powell.

Powell, who represented the residents at the tribunal, added: “rather than wanting to ‘protect’ the neighbourhood from social housing, opponents to the bowling green proposal want to ensure the welfare and social cohesion of all residents of Woodstock, current and incoming. It was through use of the bowling green that Woodstock managed to remain a diverse yet socially cohesive working class community.”

She asked the City to work with them rather than “expending time, effort and public funds on further litigation”.

“We look forward to engaging with the City on how the already approved social housing plans can be realised and how the bowling green site can be reclaimed for the community, in line with its heritage significance.”

For now, the only possible further legal recourse is to request the Western Cape High Court for a review of the decision.

Michael Janse van Rensburg, Chief Executive Officer of HWC, said they respected the Independent Tribunal’s right to have a different opinion.

“There are no further appeals available, the only further avenue is to approach the High Court to review the decision. As such a review has financial implications, HWC must consider the prospects of success carefully before taking such an action. The City of Cape Town would likewise have to consider its options,” he said.

Jan-Jan Joubert, media liaison officer to Anroux Marais, Western Cape MEC of Cultural Affairs and Sport, said they considered the matter closed.

Carl Pophaim, Mayco Member for Human Settlements, said the City was studying the decision and consulting about its next steps.

TOPICS:  Social Housing Series

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