The Amazon Development might bring jobs while carting away biodiversity

Two Rivers Urban Park - TRUP - Liesbeek Black River - view east from Devils Peak Cape Town

The proposed multi-billion rand deal Amazon struck with the City of Cape Town is heading to court. Court papers have been filed by lobby groups, the Observatory Civic Association and the Goringhaicona Khoi-Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC). The latter who is advocating for preserving the land. Previously the Daily Vox examined the cultural significance of its preservation. We take a look now at the environmental considerations. 

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 The Land 

The proposed development is situated in the Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP). TRUP is located where the Liesbeek and Black Rivers meet. It is one of the largest “urban green lungs” in the City of Cape Town, and is 240 hectares in extent. TRUP has sensitive ecological systems, habitats, and extensive open space areas. The park is also wetland – an area of land covered by water or saturated with water. 

Ecological importance

Wetlands worldwide have one thing in common. They are extremely important habitats of rich biodiversity housing many species of plants and animals. They purify water by removing pollutants, and store water during dry periods. Wetlands can prevent floods by storing excess water, slowing it down so it distributes evenly over a floodplain. 

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Climate change deconstructed

Ecological Threat 

The Amazon development will destroy the habitat and breeding sites of a variety of birdlife and wildlife, including three species of kingfishers. Amazon’s development would be in the middle of a floodplain. Those floodplains handle stormwaters from two rivers. The City of Cape Town’s own environmental management department, appealed against the authorisation granted by the provincial department. The City’s environment management department said: “the decision does not give due consideration to climate change impacts, and fails to apply precautionary principles”. 

The development will fill in the original “natural” course of the Liesbeek River, a habitat to birds and that provides a breeding ground for the endangered Western leopard toad. It will turn it into a stormwater wale – a grassed open stormwater ditch. Once the habitat is gone through the infilling of the river, there will be no movement of animals from there between wetlands. With life gone, the ecological corridor disappears as well. 

Jobs vs Environment 

The City of Cape Town has greenlit the development. Mayor Dan Plato said,  “We are acutely aware of the need to balance investment and job creation, along with heritage and planning considerations. On this occasion, the balance overwhelmingly favoured tourism and jobs”. 

The development will employ 5239 people in the construction phase, and is expected to create 19 000 indirect jobs. The official unemployment rate is now at 34.4% or 7.8 million jobless people, according to Stats SA.

Earlier in the year, Plato released a statement that barely touched on the environmental impacts of the development. He said “the development application does not adversely affect the rights of surrounding properties and appropriate design mitigation will be required in the conditions of approval.”

What the experts say 

Urban planner Jens Horber says the development is great for economic growth, but it is in the wrong place. In his piece for the Daily Maverick, Horber said the development is fundamentally flawed. He said it is development at all costs, with politics, power and money more important than resilience, spatial transformation and a culture of respect. Horber said there is significant underutilised publicly owned land near the proposed development site, that is publicly owned and well located. 

Dr Heidi van Deventer, lead scientist of the freshwater component for the National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA) said wetlands are crucial for water security.  

“South Africa is among the most water scarce countries per capita in the world, and droughts are a natural feature of South Africa’s climate, though expected to increase as a result of climate change,” van Deventer said. 

The case was set to be heard on August 16, for the court to review the decision approving the development, and to issue an interdict to halt any construction. Tauriq Jenkins of the GKKITC told the Daily Vox, the court will likely hear the matter in September. This was after the respondents,the Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust, asked for an extension to reply. 

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Featured Image via Wikicommons