Plettenberg bay beach development raises objections

Environmentalists have objected to the proposed Plettenberg Bay small-boat harbour, saying intensive urbanisation of Central Beach will destroy the safest swimming beach in the town, the natural beauty of the area and suck the financial lifeblood out of the central business district.

If the R4-billion development, which has been 10 years in the making, goes bankrupt, maintenance of the harbour will fall to the Bitou municipality and ultimately also hit the pockets of already burdened ratepayers, they said.

The Plettenberg Bay Community Environmental Forum yesterday said it had lodged "the strongest possible objection" to the development.

Chairwoman Julie Carlisle said apart from changing the face of the popular tourist beach, it would destroy the safest swimming beach in Plett - a favourite for children and young people.
She said parking and traffic congestion on the narrow bridge that traverses the Piesang River would be hard to address without disturbing the natural beauty of the area.

The harbour development is proposed for Central Beach and runs into the mouth of the Piesang River, which meanders to the ocean alongside the Beacon Isle hotel.

The development by Western Cape Marina Investments includes residential blocks on both sides of the river and a commercial node on the beach front. "Developments of this nature carry a high financial risk. If it succeeds, it may well suck the life out of the CBD in the same way that the construction of a mall devastated the George CBD. If it fails, not unlikely in the current financial climate, tourism in Plett might be dealt a death blow," Carlisle said.

She said if the small boat harbour went bankrupt, the municipality would have to take over maintenance of the waterfront, which could "only be funded by the ratepayers".

The forum also raised concerns about proposals for seven-storey high buildings, both commercial and residential, along the river banks and beachfront, buildings situated below the 50-year flood line and the massive dredging that would be required to deepen the river mouth, affecting marine life.

Bitou municipality recently spent R30 million to build a desalination plant with intake wells in the river mouth. "Are we to assume that all that money was just wasted? What if we enter another drought, how do we cope?" Carlisle asked.

Mike Cohen, the Port Elizabeth consultant appointed to do the EIA, said the comments received during the public participation phase were being analysed so that they could be addressed in the scoping and environmental assessment phase. He said although he had not counted the number of initial responses, a large number of important issues had been identified, with "perhaps the major one being the height of the buildings and impacts on Central Beach".

(Cape Argus)

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