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Court interdict seeks to halt construction of planned Amazon HQ site

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The River Club proposed redevelopment project.
The River Club proposed redevelopment project.

A court interdict filed by the organisers of the Liesbeek Action Campaign seeks to halt the construction of the planned Amazon headquarters site in Cape Town.

From 19 to 21 January, the interdict will be heard in the Cape Town High Court, where all parties will be given an opportunity to respond to the complaint.

In April, the City of Cape Town approved the Cape Town-based R4.5 billion River Club Development – a 15-hectare parcel of land that is expected to house Amazon’s African headquarters, along with other large commercial businesses.

The US retail giant looks to establish a larger corporation in the Observatory-based River Club, which is owned and operated by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust.

However, after receiving funding of almost R170 000 through an online crowdfunding campaign, the members of the Liesbeek Action Campaign, together with other supporters, have filed for an urgent court interdict against the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust and the City of Cape Town.

The legal battle seeks to halt the construction of the site, which aims to turn the treasured piece of land into a commercial and residential development.

The court action was filed by local coalition group and various indigenous groups, including the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council and the Observatory Civic Association.

In the complaint lodged with the Cape Town High Court, the groups say the construction on the floodplain between the Black and Liesbeek rivers would lead to the land losing its historical significance and result in increased risk of flooding and environmental exploitation.

They allege that illegal construction procedures were followed without the approval of all parties involved, in an attempt to hasten the building of the site.

“We believe the re-zoning and environmental authorisation decisions by the City of Cape Town and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning will be found invalid by the High Court. On three occasions the developers were asked to hold off construction pending the High Court review, but they refused and have proceeded with building as fast as possible,” according to a statement released by the campaign group.

“It is our view that they have received every assistance from the authorities to enable them to get started with construction before all due processes were completed. It appears that the city may have approved the building plans without all line departments’ sign-off as is normal practice. This is because a further approval is on record for a revised set of drawings, submitted by the developer and their architects on 2 August 2021 and approved by the city on 18 October 2021, which suggests that line department sign-off may only have occurred during August to October 2021.”

The groups further note that the development entails 150 000 square metres of concrete bulk, which they claim violates environmental principles, both nationally and internationally, including the Paris Agreement.

The battle has been going on for over a year, with several protests taking place outside the site and a petition signed by over 500 people being submitted to the Planning Appeals Advisory Panel.

A graphic of what the completed construction could look like.
A graphic of what the completed construction could look like.

Thousands of jobs in pipeline

In its defence, the City of Cape Town argues that one of the overarching goals of its Municipal Spatial Development Framework is sustainable development that balances ecological conservation and urban development.

The city further argues that the development design will contribute significantly to the economy of the province through the creation of up to 19 000 indirect and induced jobs.

“The planned mixed-use development will be a significant boost to the economy and the people of Cape Town in the aftermath of the national COVID-19 lockdown,” said former City of Cape Town executive mayor Dan Plato in a media statement released last year.

“We are acutely aware of the need to balance investment and job creation, along with heritage and planning considerations. It is clear that this development offers many economic, social and environmental benefits for the area. We are committed to driving investment to revitalise the economy, which is slowly recovering following the impact of COVID-19.”

The city says it had carefully and thoroughly considered all of the submissions and concerns during the appeal process and this imminent development strikes that balance, with a combination of well-located residential and commercial opportunities.

“This includes the rehabilitation of the degraded riverine corridor, improved links with surrounding ecological resources such as the Raapenberg Wetland and the establishment of a high-quality green space that will be accessible to the public,” the city noted in its statement.

On its website, the Liesbeek Action Campaign notes: “We believe the High Court judge will consider our arguments to be rational and based on the evidence, and will put a stop to the construction so that the High Court can review the decisions in question that have allowed a private developer and the city and provincial authorities to destroy a sacred floodplain.”

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to highlight that the matter is yet to be heard before the court.

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