Chapman's Peak: The Real Achievements since May 2009
Media Statement by Robin Carlisle, Minister of Transport and Public Works
It is understandable that Hout Bay and Noordhoek residents should be aggrieved by the Chapman's Peak toll road and all the problems that have accompanied it. The whole process leading to the barring down of the upper slopes and finally to the toll road was, in my view, a disastrous technical decision, and I said so repeatedly whilst I was in opposition. The contract that brought the toll into being was extremely prejudicial to the province, the picknickers, the hikers, the tourists and those who use it on their way to and from work.
Thus, when I became the minister, I inherited a binding contract that had been conceived in sin or insanity; there is no other possibility. The pass was more often closed than not. The concessionaire not only had the power to close the pass at will, he was also liberally paid by the province even whilst the pass was closed. All of this was courtesy of previous ANC governments.
I was determined to renegotiate the contract to eliminate its worst aspects. With the aid of the new majority interest in Entilini and with the assistance of National Treasury, we were able to amend the contract to one that is significantly more beneficial to the users, the taxpayer and the province. The province will get back the R60 million-odd it has coughed up for so-called "designated" events and we now decide on whether the pass closes or not.
The province will, over time, not only recover all present and future costs, including its contribution to the toll plaza, it will also benefit by a share of profits from the contract.
A 12-year project to remove alien vegetation and replant fynbos on the high peaks - which should have been done years ago - is now being implemented by SANParks.
Motorists will be aware that except for a few short weather events, the pass has not been closed since the agreement was signed.
We have thus sought to mitigate a very bad situation, and to the greatest degree, this has been achieved.
Therefore it was surprising to be confronted by a series of Cape Times articles and an editorial claiming to have unearthed "new" truths about Chapman's Peak, most of which were seriously inaccurate.
The current furore around Chapman's Peak and the toll plaza is even more remarkable in that nothing is being done that was not known about before and that was not subject to the most extensive public participation ever visited on any provincial project.
These revelations based themselves to a disappointing degree on hearsay, exaggerations and inaccuracies.
Let me reassure your readers on these points:
- The Times headline: "The toll road company is building a luxury office block costing R54 million on the drive." The clear impression conveyed - and certainly understood by the public - is of a great office rearing up the side of the mountain. This is incorrect. The Cape Times describes the plaza as luxurious and massive. This also is incorrect. Contrary to the Times report, there will only be 20 people working on the tolls and in the office at any given time - and not 60.
The alleged "office block" is a two-storey building, each floor of 200 square metres in extent. It is designed not to be intrusive and, by way of example, it cannot be seen from Hout Bay harbour.
The cost of the office building and the toll booths is about R13 million. This includes strong rooms and a waste water plant.
Other costs include the roadways (R10 million), landscaping (R1 million), electronic equipment (R6 million) and electricity and lighting (R2.5 million). It will have offices, control rooms and a meeting room.
The total cost is capped at R54 million, but is likely to be less.
The province's share of the cost will be recovered in full over time. The attractive and environmentally appropriate new toll plaza will be built into the unsightly quarry on the mountain, and will mitigate what is the ugliest feature on the mountain. Construction is not happening at the expense of pristine fynbos or any other protected fauna.
- The Times headline: "Upper storey of block designed for party, say residents." This is also not true. The Times gives their source as a Mr Swimmer of the Hout Bay Residents Association. At a meeting of his association to which he invited me last year, and at which three of his members were present, he made a similar allegation. When I asked for his source, he told me that "somebody" had told him.
- "Free day pass to Chapman's Peak to be scrapped." Whilst there is, and always has been, a provision in the contract for all vehicles passing through the toll gates to be charged, there has been an informal agreement that bonafide picnickers and hikers would not be charged on the Hout Bay side until the completion of the plaza.
In 2008, the then ANC minister agreed in terms of the Record of Decision to discontinue the day pass system. This provision has not been implemented. Clauses 16.1 to 16.4 of the contract govern the future of day passes. They will continue to be issued unhindered for at least the next year.
The new plaza is sited over a kilometre higher up the mountain, and many picnic sites and hiking routes will fall outside of the toll section. I am not in favour of the removal of day passes, which can only be implemented with my concurrence.
Informal negotiations have started with the Toll Company to find a solution in the best interests of all stakeholders, and particularly the people of Cape Town, to whom the mountains belong.
Whilst most of the plaza - some 75% - will be built on provincial land, a small piece of Table Mountain Park (nearly all of which is a quarry) will also be used.
The legality of the approval to construct on the portion of SANParks land is currently being challenged and is best left to the courts.
However, the comparison with the small piece of land excised for the Hospital Bend/N2 upgrade is entirely fallacious. That land was owned by the Cecil John Rhodes Estate, which is governed by its own and entirely different Act of Parliament.
Very few projects have been subjected to the extent and intensity of public participation which scrutinised the toll plaza.
Commencing 2003, the environmental impact assessment triggered widespread participation, in which Mr Swimmer and his HBRA were fully involved.
The National Minister of the Environment enforced a second round of public participation in 2005, in which Mr Swimmer and his HBRA were again fully involved.
Finally, there was an appeal process which allowed for further input from interested and affected parties.
At the time, the Cape Times reported on all three of these processes. Interestingly, the HBRA who now express such outrage about the plaza, did not object the Record of Decision in its favour in 2005.
Despite this, your editorial today repeats most of the inaccuracies of its earlier articles, and goes on to say "there was no public announcement about the move".
Outrage is a very overworked word in journalistic terms, so let me confine myself to expressing disappointment that the Cape Times should make such an obviously inaccurate statement.
Like most Capetonians, I would never have wanted a Chapman's Peak toll, catch nets and underpasses.
However, once the upper cliffs were tampered with and after the uncontrolled alien flora was burnt off some ten years ago, the pass became significantly more dangerous. This necessitated the current protective measures.
This was the legacy of past administrations. There is now no possibility that the huge costs of maintaining the safety of the pass can be met without tolling. Chapman's Peak is, by a wide margin, the most expensive road in the province.
Despite all the measure we have introduced, two-thirds of the pass rests on soft and eroding Cape sandstone, which makes Chapman's Peak the most vulnerable of our provincial treasures.
Setting aside fairy stories about luxury and parties, the vexed issue is whether the office area of the plaza could have been sited elsewhere. From an efficiency point of view, this is undesirable.
Toll offices are usually positioned close to a major toll gate, as at Huguenot. The plaza and gates are designed for minimal visual impact and also to obscure the quarry.
More importantly, the plaza is the product of a very detailed Record of Decision and subject to a complex private/public partnership contract. To undo it now exposes the risk of unravelling everything that has been achieved and regressing to the bad old days of conflict between the partners - more frequent closure of the pass and significant new expense to the taxpayer.
This administration has met its promise of re-opening Chapman's Peak and renegotiating a more favourable contract, saving the taxpayer over R84 million in the process.
The Cape Times ambush of yesterday and today reminded me that few good deeds go unpunished.
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