Freedom Park fight

Freedom Park is earmarked for an Upgrading Informal Settlements Programme. Pictured is Dan Buggs at Freedom Park in Ottery.

The year has started off with a lot of focus on housing and the need for housing in the Southern Mail distribution area.

With a lot of contention about the issue the City of Cape Town and national government’s human settlement departments have had to answer burning questions from those who are desperate for housing.

In Ottery residents are also at loggerheads with the City about the planned Upgrading Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) at Freedom Park informal settlement.

The UISP is a national programme, which guides the incremental upgrading of informal settlements.

Disgruntled Ottery residents are investigating legal action to halt the City of Cape Town’s plan to expand the Freedom Park informal settlement.

Previously there was a land use management application to re-block the informal settlement in Woodlands Road, Ottery (“Freedom Park block”, Southern Mail, March 22, 2017). At the time there was a lot of pushback from ratepayers who live close to the settlement, ,claiming that the City was not transparent and inclusive with the plans for the area.

A land Use Management application by the City was advertised in January 2017 and was open to comment and public participation until the end of February that year. The Ottery Civic Association (OCA) has been taking up residents’ complaints about the plans for the settlement.

About 260 residents attended a meeting to address the issue at Battswood Primary School on Thursday February 21. A working committee was also established to investigate the option of litigation.

Cherrel Jacobs, OCA chairperson, said residents are concerned that the expansion of the settlement will lead to the arrival of more people from other informal settlements.

“We’re also concerned about a further increase in crime, a decrease in their property values and greater demand on the area’s existing service and transport infrastructures. The settlement is also within a recognised wetlands area and residents fear the expansion could negatively impact the environment. Instead, they are advocating that the City’s existing plans be set aside and that, through proper community consultation, a plan for better housing and living conditions be considered for the settlements legitimate residents,” said Ms Jacobs.

She said more than 1 000 people objected to the plan to have the settlement expanded but the plan was approved. The OCA subsequently appealed the decision.

Ms Jacobs said the correct channels were followed on their part with the public participation process where they objected as well as the appeal. The association says none of their concerns or suggestions were considered by the City.

The OCA also suggested that Freedom Park residents be considered for other housing developments, such as the housing development in Edward Road in Ottery.

There are also concerns that if the settlement were to be expanded, that more people will set up shacks at Freedom Park.

Ms Jacobs said it is the City’s intention to expand the settlement area to 2.3 hectares, accommodating 159 residential properties, one community facility, two public open spaces, a detention pond and sub-station.

“In its application the City said that the expansion, which it refers to as an upgrade, will, among other things, allow the existing settlement’s residents to secure tenure.The residential properties, will contain a temporary corrugated iron structure and a floor, replacing the approximately 156 existing wooden structures.The question is whether this temporary corrugated iron structure will become as permanent as the current wooden structures which have a permanency of more than 20 years,” said Ms Jacobs.

Ottery Resident Keith Blake questioned the City’s commitment to upgrade the settlement.

“This upgrade for the informal settlement was approved a very long time ago. When is this upgrade taking place. The poor people of Freedom Park need an urgent answer so that they know where they stand. I truly believe as an activist their long wait for a better living is too long, much too long overdue,” 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 the City of Cape Town has not been engaging Freedom Park residents about their plans at the settlement.

“Before they said it was going to be a reblocking. Now I hear there is something else happening. We do not know what is going on because the City doesn’t tell us. This was supposed to happen a long time ago but nothing was done for the people of Freedom Park. We have been living here for so long. Freedom Park residents want proper houses. A long time ago we were promised houses. Many of us are on the housing list for over 20 years but nothing happens,” said Mr Buggs.

“We want houses, we want a house we can leave to our children and their children. We’ve waited long enough and we are tired of the empty promises. We also want communication from the City and we want to be able to give input,” he said.

Malusi Booi, the City’s mayoral committee member for human settlements, said Freedom Park, in accordance with the UISP, is in phase 3 of the upgrading process, which relates to obtaining formal land use rights to facilitate the construction and installation of formal engineering services.

The individual serviced sites can then be transferred to qualifying beneficiaries.

“Thereafter, the final phase is to take effect which relates to the building of a top structure, for example Breaking New Ground house, among others, in accordance with the housing policy,’ said Mr Booi.

Responding to residents’ concerns about expansion of the site and that more people will come to the settlement, Mr Booi said only people who are currently living in Freedom Park will be included in the project.

“Furthermore, it is important to note that generally, when formalising a settlement, the footprint of the settlement will be larger due to the inclusion of roads and space allocated for facilities,” he said.

Mr Booi said the reblocking plan, which was initially on the cards, was a basic upgrading process.

“Freedom Park already enjoys these benefits which relate to basic services and informal access, with structures in a blocked and straightened-out manner which enhances the ability of the City to provide basic and emergency services,” he said.

In response to the OCA’s plan to take legal action, Mr Booi said due process was followed with regard to obtaining the required land use approval.

“The City respects that the OCA is well within their rights to consider opposing the decision regarding the land use approval. In the meantime, the City remains committed to engaging with the affected parties regarding this matter while endeavouring to balance the needs of both the Ottery and Freedom Park residents. During the planning process, the City engaged with the previous OCA committee as it formed part of the stakeholders and it is the responsibility of the OCA to share the information with the residents of the greater Ottery community,” he said.