The River Club redevelopment will create both jobs and a beautiful environmentally safe space

Artist impression of the planned River Club redevelopment


Response by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust. The article “The Amazon Development might bring jobs while carting away biodiversity” (Daily Vox, 2 September 2021) contains a number of misleading falsehoods about the planned River Club redevelopment. 


“The Amazon Development might bring jobs while carting away biodiversity”

Most importantly it claims that the project will destroy the environment and biodiversity on the site when the exact opposite is true. The redevelopment, will in fact, transform the current severely degraded site (which is in effect tarmac and a driving range and an adjoining degraded riverine corridor) into beautiful, environmentally safe space that will be accessible to the public while providing thousands of critical jobs at the same time. The redevelopment will also attract desperately needed investment at a time when South Africa has never been in more need of such a vote of confidence in the future. Detailed responses to the many falsehoods in the article follow below.

The Land 

It is correct that the River Club site is located in what the City of Cape Town refers to as the Two Rivers Area, which extends over nearly 300 hectares of land (and not 240 hectares as stated in the article). However, at less than  15 hectares, the River Club property comprises less than 5% of the Two Rivers Area. The development is quite simply not being built on a wetland. 

Groups opposed to the development and some sections of the media consistently (and seemingly deliberately mislead people), by conferring the significance of other parts of the Two Rivers Area to the River Club site while also ignoring the fact that the larger area also includes sports fields, commercial and residential properties including the Ndabeni industrial area.

The fact is that the River Club site has no wetlands. It is an infill site with very low ecological value having previously housed a driving range and mashie golf course, conference facilities, restaurant and bar. Adjacent water courses do host wetlands but all of these are degraded with some having been destroyed by being canalised in the past and have been used as dumping grounds (not by the developer). 

Biodiversity and Environmental Rehabilitation 

In direct contrast to what is stated in the article, the River Club redevelopment will see the major restoration of the degraded natural resources and will create a  high quality habitat for the fauna and flora on the site. 

This will include transforming the stretch of the Liesbeek River west of the site into a mosaic of wetland pools and interconnecting channels that will also function as swales that contribute to reducing pollution from stormwater from existing urban developments. The project will also replace the concrete canal to the east with a naturalised riverine environment, naturalising this section as far as possible.  

These interventions will significantly improve faunal habitat quality and connectivity, make the area more representative of the natural environments that once occurred in this area and provide important and scarce quality terrestrial and breeding habitat for the Western Leopard Toad and other indigenous faunal species, including the Kingfishers, which have found opportunities to nest in the existing degraded habitat at the site. This is because the project will retain or replicate a portion of the steep bank where Kingfishers currently nest, inspired by a similar successful project at the Intaka Island wetlands.  

As a result of these plans, the independent avifaunal specialist who assessed the project  in its Environmental Impact Assessment Phase has concluded in sign-off of the final landscape plan that: “The proposed modifications to the Liesbeek Canal and the former, now backwater, channel, and  especially the re-naturalization of topography and vegetation will, once completed, enhance the attraction of the development area for birds which are likely to increase in diversity and numbers. This applies particularly to land-, as opposed to water-, birds as they react to improved indigenous food resources and habitats. Overall, from an avifaunal perspective, I consider that the latest plans not only meet, but exceed, basic mitigation issues and concerns raised in the earlier phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).”

Furthermore, the comprehensive Basic Assessment Report for the redevelopment was peer reviewed  by leading carbon and climate change advisory firm Promethium Carbon, who  affirmed that the project, including the rehabilitation of the Liesbeek River, will improve stormwater drainage on the site and surrounding areas and will in fact improve the resilience of the area. 

The real experts 

It is also unfortunate that the article relies on “expert” testimony of candidate town planner Mr Jens Horber and ignores the extensive reports compiled by a team of independent biodiversity specialists in the course of the project’s EIA, which are publicly available and are crucial reading for anyone who cares about the project’s impact on biodiversity.

The fact is that the two parties who are opposed to the redevelopment namely, the Observatory Civic Association (OCA) and the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKTIC) have been active stakeholders since 2016 in the development application and public participation processes, yet have both failed to commission a single specialist assessment or specialist review of the comprehensive and independent specialist reports that meticulously assessed the biodiversity, hydrology, socio economic, visual and heritage impacts of the project.

The court case 

 Instead they have used a stratagem, with campaign funding raised on the back of their personal views  and the views of some supporters – who are themselves not experts in the fields they attempt to comment on – to attempt to discredit the legislated public process by spreading misinformation about the redevelopment, including details regarding the court application they have filed in an attempt to try and stop the project. It is untrue that the case was set to be heard on the 16th of August, as claimed by Mr Tauriq Jenkins of the GKKTIC. 

The facts are the following. All seven respondents cited in the matter – including the LLPT, the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape Minister for Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) have opposed the urgent interim interdict pending principally but not only the judicial review application 

In addition to the cited respondents the First Nations Collective (which represents the majority of Khoi and San leaders in the peninsula who vociferously support the project) have joined the legal proceedings. 

The matter is also unlikely to be heard in September, as Mr. Jenkins contends in the article.

While these two parties continue with their misinformation campaign, the LLPT remains focused on delivering a world-class project, which will provide  many socio-economic benefits to the people of Cape Town and the province including the creation of 5 239 direct and, possibly, 13 700 indirect and induced jobs during construction, and more than 800 direct jobs during operations; addressing the injustices of Apartheid spatial planning through the provision of developer-subsidised inclusionary housing; providing several hectares of safe, recreational publicly accessible spaces and restoring and celebrating the First Nations’ rich heritage and history.

Featured image provided by Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.