Freedom Park block

Caitlyn Williams, Jade Swartz and Denzil Dickson at the Freedom Park informal settlement.

A community in Ottery is divided on a Land Use Management application for plans to reblock an informal settlement in Freedom Park, Ottery.

Plans for the reblocking have been in progress for the past five years but recently there had been some pushback from residents who live in privately owned houses near the informal settlement about the City’s alleged lack of inclusion and transparency (“Cry for Freedom,“ Southern Mail, April 22, 2015).

The Land Use Management application by the City was advertised in January this year and was open to comments and public participation until Monday February 27.

Because the informal settlement is located on a wetland, the upgrade will include creating individual erven, raised roads that would facilitate the flow of water off-site, preventing flooding; proper drainage systems, water, electrical and sanitation connections for each erf, and street lighting.

Shabodien Roomanay, chairperson of the Ottery Civic Association (OCA), however, said that the allocated time was not enough.

“We are not against bettering the lives of the people of Freedom Park but are opposed to the plans that might lead to development due to lack of sufficient consultation.

“The application and request for comments and or objections flies in the face of all the meetings we have had with City officials and seems typical of the disdain, bordering disrespect, with which the City treats its residents. We have had enough of this,” said Mr Roomanay.

He adds that the OCA has asked that all development in the Ottery area or studies that might lead to developments, be halted until the community has either sanctioned the developments and that any future developments be discussed to include the community on the decision that will affect them.

The OCA has now requested for an extension of the public participation process until 2018.

“The reason for this is to allow residents to collect sufficient resources to be able to build capacity to constructively comment on the application,” said Mr Roomanay.

A resident, who would only give his first name Wayne, said he wants the informal settlement gone.

“I have nothing against the people living there but there has been lots of crime that emanates from there. Our property values have dropped and will drop more if this upgrade takes place because there are talks that it will be expanded. They should give the residents of Freedom Park proper houses elsewhere in the city,” he said.

Mr Roomanay said this is, however, not the feeling of all of the residents.

“There are those who want the informal settlement gone but the OCA wants dignified living conditions for these people. They are simply people who have been unfortunate and deserve better, like brick and mortar houses instead of structures. We want to engage the City but they are not being open with us, the ones who will be most affected by the changes,” he said.

Dan Buggs, from the Freedom Park committee, who has been a resident at the informal settlement since it was established over 20 years ago, said they are aware that some people want them gone.

“We agree with the OCA about the more permanent housing and we are onboard with that. I beg those who want us gone to try and understand that we are just people trying to survive. We want to live in harmony with everyone – why are they so heartless towards us? Can’t we all learn to coexist?” Asked Mr Buggs.

Stuart Diamond, the City’s mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, said the there are no plans to move the residents as suggested by some residents.

“Given the shortage of available land in the city, relocation of the settlement is not practical. The City has a mandate to improve conditions in informal settlements, and we believe that this upgrade will have an uplifting effect on the whole area,” he said.

Asked about the OCA’s allegations that there have been a lack of engagement Mr Diamond said the City has communicated with residents via the civic association and the ratepayers’ association.

“The last public meeting was held in November last year, however, since then there has been ad-hoc engagement with the project’s steering committee,” said Mr Diamond.

Brett Herron, the City’s mayco member for transport and urban development, said an extension of the public comment period is not provided by the Municipal Planning By-law (2015).

“As such, it is not possible to extend the deadline for public comment to 2018 as requested. In this case the advertisement calling for public comment was placed in local newspapers, via on-site notices and notification to directly affected parties via registered post,” said Mr Herron.