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The issuing of 28 ‘repair or remove’ notices to shocked Shelly Beach coastal property owners could put an end to blatant Admiralty Reserve land grabs, not just on the South Coast but throughout South Africa.
In an operation instigated by the National Department of Environment Affairs, environmental inspectors, including Hibiscus Coast Municipality officials, prepared 28 notices to serve on beachfront property owners in Shelly Beach who had allegedly extended their properties into or built illegal structures in the Admiralty Reserve. Last weekend 21 of these notices were served.
The remaining seven, which could not be issued as the property owners were not available, would be emailed or posted to them, said Hibiscus Coast spokesman Simon April.
According to Department of Environment Affairs spokesman Zolile Nqayi, the Shelly Beach operation was the start of a massive national clampdown on illegal beachfront structures.
“Our focus is on the entire coastline from Northern Cape to Northern KwaZulu-Natal. We had to start somewhere and, thanks to the support from Hibiscus Coast Municipality, planning in Shelly Beach came together very quickly. We will be serving more notices in the other areas both in this and in the other coastal provinces,” he said.
According to Mr Nqayi, those who received notices would have 14 days to convince the department that non-compliance notices should not be served on them. If this did not happen they would be served notices compelling them to remove fences and other structures built illegally within coastal public property.
If these notices were ignored, a police docket would be opened. The Coastal Management Act also allowed for officials to removed illegal structures and to claim expenses from the culprit.
“The Coastal Management Act makes the state the steward for the citizens of South Africa over what happens in the coastal area. It creates coastal public property, which is incapable of being sold or alienated. It addresses the issue of access. We are all aware that some communities are denied access to certain parts of our coast claimed to be privately owned and thus not accessible to many citizens,” he explained.
The Shelly Beach operation was hailed by the South Coast Conservancy Forum as a huge step in the right direction.
“South Africa has some of the best environmental legislation in the world. Unfortunately, there sometimes does not seem to be the political will to enforce it. It is about time something was done about the atrocious degradation of the coastline and we hope this national operation will gather momentum,” said forum chairman Alex Skene.
Mr Skene explained that the forum was an umbrella body for the 17 coastal and inland conservancies between Hibberdene and Port Edward. In turn, it was a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Conservation Association, which was affiliated to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
“As such we have enormous clout as an environmental watchdog. Together we represent a great deal of knowledge about environmental matters, too. For a long time we have been most concerned about the disregard many coastal property owners have for the law and we look forward to working with the authorities to ensure coastal management legislation will now be obeyed,” he said
Mr Skene added that an important conservancy function was education of the general public about environmental matters. The forum planned to develop an educational programme regarding coastal management legislation and other ‘green’ matters pertinent to the South Coast.
Environmental consultancies are pleased about the Shelly Beach notices.
“When we are called upon to do environmental consulting for beachfront property owners and we try and explain what can and can’t be done from an environmental legislation point of view, our clients point out that other coastal property owners are breaking the law and getting away with it. A national operation dealing with these crimes would make our work much easier,” said environmental practitioner Eric Dickson.
He added that it was a common practice right along the South Coast for coastal property owners to fence off the admiralty reserve in front of properties and to incorporate it into the gardens. As well as illegal fences and gates there were all sorts of illegal structures built on public property including, in some cases, swimming pools and cottages. Illegal beach access was another major problem that needed to be addressed, he said.