Mayor Dan Plato made it clear that illegal occupation at a piece of land earmarked for a housing development would not be tolerated.
Residents have, however, said that it could not be called land invasion when the land in question is their land.
On Friday Mr Plato had an emergency meeting with the Ottery community at the Ottery multi-purpose centre which more than 250 people attended, with tensions rising as the housing issue was debated.
On Friday March 22 Ottery residents started burning tyres and pegged plots on the Edward Street field where an affordable housing scheme is planned to be built (“Housing needs flare up”, Southern Mail, March 27)
Residents said the housing project for the area had been delayed for more than 15 years and they were fed up with the wait on affordable housing because of overcrowding and poor living conditions.
Mr Plato said if Ottery residents occupied the piece of land they would never have their “brick and mortar” houses.
“If you do that, then in a year or two the same people will come back to me and say they don’t want to live in such conditions,” he said.
“We don’t have our own toilets or water access. That raises other problems for the community of Ottery,” Mr Plato said.
Residents questioned why the housing development was taking so long to start.
“There are processes that need to be followed and unfortunately that takes a lot of time but we as the City do it the legal and right way so that your children and their children can have a proper home that they can inherit from you. So let’s try and work hand in hand to get the building of this project started so that you can move into your house as soon as possible. If you put up a settlement on the land meant for housing it will not do you any good in the long run. There’s something beautiful in store for you, but if you occupy the land then this will not be possible,” said Mr Plato.
Cornelius Japhta from the community said too many excuses were being made. “Year in and year out we get the same excuses. You can’t blame us if we’re getting fed up and want to put up shanties (shacks). This is our land and we deserve proper housing. Why is it not being fast tracked?”
Melanie Arendse asked the mayor what happened to the previous process. “This has been happening for the past 20 years and it seems every five years there is a change of plans. In 2016 or 2017 the contract defaulted. Now it seems the whole process is starting over again. We do not want an informal settlement but our people are homeless and it’s overcrowded.
“What solution is there for our people if the project is not starting any time soon? We need solutions. We also want the project to only
be for Ottery residents as well as a temporary village where people can live while waiting for the housing project to finish,” said Ms Arendse.
Mr Plato’s responded by saying that he hasn’t been mayor for long. I’ve only been mayor for four months. I cannot be held responsible for the previous processes but I can say is that the community can hold me accountable. I don’t know what happened before. Myself and the steering committee must be held responsible and I will be back next week with the officials for a follow-up meeting to give feedback on the housing development,” he said.
Mr Plato added that the temporary village would have to be discussed but could not guarantee that this would be an option.
The community in turn said they would give Mr Plato and the officials the week to come back with answers.