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New Amazon HQ not dependent on River Club site

Claims thousand of jobs would be lost if River Club development did not go ahead are false
Court case delayed as urgent interdict sought to prevent continued construction

Much has been made of the thousands of jobs the new Amazon regional headquarters being built on the River Club in Observatory will bring to Cape Town. Corporate behemoth Amazon is the anchor tenant in the R4,5bn mega-development. In the face of longstanding opposition to the development by civic and indigenous groups, and the City’s Municipal Planning Tribunal, former mayor Dan Plato, and the developers have touted its economic benefits, implying Cape Town would lose Amazon if the River Club development did not go ahead.

But the River Club was not among the five sites short listed for Amazon’s new regional headquarters, states an architect involved in responding to Amazon’s initial request for proposals.

This is revealed in an affidavit by founding partner and executive chairman of DHK Architects, Derick Henstra, which forms part of the Observatory Civic Association’s legal challenge to the R4,5bn development at the confluence of the Liesbeek and Black rivers.

Henstra states that in 2018 Amazon sent a request for proposals to a number of property development companies for development of their new regional headquarters in Cape Town.

DHK assisted “several” of the companies to prepare their proposals. He said after receiving the proposals, Amazon shortlisted sites in Century City, the Waterfront, Harbour Arch near Culemborg, the Galleria in Tygervalley, and a site on the Foreshore.

“The River Club site was not one of the five sites on that shortlist,” he states.

This gives the lie to assertions by the developers, and former mayor Dan Plato as concrete is being poured on what objectors point out is an environmentally sensitive floodplain and sacred site for the Khoi and San.

It was here where the first colonial land dispossession in South Africa took place as the Dutch forced the Khoi from their grazing lands, and where the Khoi successfully fought and killed warring Portuguese Admiral Francisco D’Almeida in 1510.

Earlier this year, Plato reportedly told Carte Blanche that should the objectors get their way, over 5,000 job opportunities would be lost, with a further 15,000 jobs lost in potential spin-offs.

Henstra states he was “surprised” when it was announced the Amazon headquarters would be build on the River Club site, owned by Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust.

“I was very surprised, first because in my view that site is not appropriate for such a development, and second because proceeding with that site involved a much higher degree of risk than several of the other qualifying sites.”

He said he believed the site is not appropriate because it is a sacred heritage site and “a very environmentally sensitive piece of land”.

He said he was in no doubt Amazon was committed to establishing a regional headquarters in Cape Town and employing more people, and there were several suitable sites meeting Amazon’s requirements.

Court interdict sought

The Observatory Civic Association and Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council are seeking an urgent interdict to halt the River Club development – which started building work on 26 June – ahead of arguing their case that permission granted for the development violates the National Heritage Resources Act and the National Environmental Management Act.

The main thrust of their legal argument is that the Environmental Authorisation for the development granted by the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP), was unlawful, because the Heritage Impact Assessment, which forms part of the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment, was not accepted by the heritage authority, being Heritage Western Cape.

The site owner and developer, Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, argue that the DEADP minister was not bound by the HIA in making his decision, and that Heritage Western Cape did not sufficiently indicate what they required of the HIA for it to be ratified.

The legal challenge was due to be heard in the Western Cape High Court on 25 and 26 November, but has been postponed due to the presiding judge, Judge Patricia Goliath, being ill.

Leslie London, chair of the Observatory Civic Association, which is the first applicant in the case, said Western Cape Judge President John Hlope should have allocated another judge as the matter is urgent, but instead told the OCA to negotiate a new date with Goliath.

It is well known that Hlophe, whose conduct is being probed by the Judicial Services Commission and may be impeached, is engaged in a bruising battle with Deputy Judge President Goliath.

London said even when the OCA went back to apply for a new judge after a suitable date for Goliath could not be found in December, Hlophe again refused.

“We believe that he is not treating an urgent interdict as urgent,” states London, with the battle between Hlophe and Goliath working in the developer’s favour, as the more they build, the more difficult it would be for the court to order them to return the site to its original condition should the court find in the applicants’ favour.