The Big Picture
GEKCO believes this road, if constructed, will irreparably change the character of the area, leading to a domino effect of high-density development. We are aware of new applications by developers to extend the Urban Boundary. These applications are motivated by this road and others such as the PWV5. The construction of the K56 will not alleviate current traffic bottlenecks on the R55, Summit and Main roads. These perimeter roads should be upgraded first and would be of more benefit to commuters from Diepsloot and Olivienhoutbosh. When surveyed, 90% of residents in this area agree.
The K56 Road Saga – A Summary
GEKCO has been a party to the K56 road applications since initial public engagements in 2012 when a loud outcry from the community generated a petition of over 2000 objectors and more public participation than Gautrans had seen before. A social impact study was undertaken by the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) because of the unique equestrian nature of the area, to better understand impacts. The conclusion stated the road construction could be a fatal flaw and recommended no further development in Kyalami if the road was approved due to the social impact, namely on the ability of the area to support equestrian activity and associated business. Despite this report, certain speculators have been pushing for the K56 road and relaxation of City policies to allow further densification of the area.
Wetlands and Threatened Species
At the outset, it was evident that the hydrology/wetland issues could prevent road construction due to the prevailing environmental legislation. There are at least three breeding areas for the Giant Bullfrog that would be destroyed as the road runs in wetlands for much of the 5km route. GEKCO and the Endangered Wildlife Trust have also been monitoring nesting sites for the red-listed African Grass Owls, directly in the path of the road.
Specialist opinions on wetlands
The wetland specialist appointed for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) recommended that certain wetland crossings in Helderfontein and Glenferness / Kyalami be rejected due to the harm the road construction poses to the wetlands that cannot be mitigated.
However, instead of following the specialist’s advice, the environmental consultant chose to rely on reports conducted for different properties within the catchment (but not on the road alignment) to motivate the approval of the road. It should be noted that these reports were commissioned for other clients and did not study the impact of a road but were to recommend wetland rehabilitation following illegal activities on those properties.
K56 approval under investigation…
In 2019, GEKCO approached a top wetland specialist within the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) to peer review the various wetland reports. What followed was a report from the specialist, a member of the Green Scorpions, recommending an investigation into the EIA process. This report has been handed to Gauteng Dept of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) who issued the environmental authorisation for the K56. GDARD has since confirmed it will undertake an investigation into the application process followed. GEKCO is arguing that GDARD has the ability to suspend the authorisation in terms of the EIA regulations while this investigation is underway.
Does Gautrans have approval to construct?
In 2019, Gauteng Dept of Roads and Transport (shortened to Gautrans here) applied for a Water Use License which is required for all work within 500m of a wetland. The license was granted in 2020 and GEKCO submitted an appeal. This process is unfolding and we are waiting on the authority (Dept of Water and Sanitation) to file their response. The matter may be set down before the tribunal as soon as June 2023. GEKCO met with Gautrans in January and have since been given an undertaking that Gautrans will not construct until the appeal is heard, or the Minister gives a directive otherwise.
Who is paying for the road?
Gautrans will cover 2/3 of the cost of the road with the remaining 1/3 divided between Century Property Developments and Steyn City. Gautrans advised that expropriated land is included in that contribution.
When does Gautrans want to construct?
Public funds were set aside in the past financial year for the construction of the road, however the tender process was interdicted. All indications are that Gautrans would like to start construction in 2023, however they have a number of hurdles.
Safety concerns with construction in wetlands
In addition to all of the issues raised above, a most obvious concern should be the safety issue with construction in wetlands. The road is not making use of span bridges, but rather culverts to cross the wetlands. Rains in 2022 and 2023 have highlighted the huge volume of water that floods these wetlands from Beaulieu to Glenferness during heavy rain. Dams at Helderfontein have burst in consecutive years and this is without much development at all in the catchment. Flooding will only increase as development occurs in the Crowthorne and Carlswald areas, let alone if the Urban Boundary is moved further. As we have seen in recent months in Gauteng, flooding can lead to fatalities and the volume of water in this wetland system after heavy rains is no different.
How to Support GEKCO’s Efforts
All Contributions Welcome!
We hope to be able to resolve this outside of court but need to be prepared to interdict in case the construction commences while our appeal and the investigation are unfolding. As stated above, the K56 will have serious knock-on effects throughout the area.
If you might be willing to contribute to legal costs, should the need arise, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.