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Posted On Friday, 05 January 2007 02:00 Published by
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SA's coast is a treasure and a new law makes sure it stays that way If you own property on the coast, read this carefully.

SA's coast is a treasure and a new law makes sure it stays that way If you own property on the coast, read this carefully. Government is proposing powerful legislation to ensure that SA's 3 000 km coastline is made pristine and kept that way.

Department of environmental affairs & tourism spokesman Niel Malan is adamant that the Integrated Coastal Management Bill will be used conservatively amid fears that government could stick to the letter of the law, which provides it with new draconian powers over private properties.

But the draft bill's 105 sections and three schedules are necessarily tight to protect a vital economic and natural resource. How they will be applied is crucial but the rights given to environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk are powerful. They include :

Extending the prohibition on the common law property right that gives families who built illegal coastal holiday homes effective ownership after 32 years beyond the seashore to other public land; Expropriating any property through the Expropriation Act if he wants to add to the coastal public zone (see table, right);

Reducing all leases and occupational rights of restaurants and businesses (including hotels) in harbours or on beaches or other areas in the coastal public zone to leases of between two and four years;

Issuing repair and removal notices for structures, even on private property, in the coastal zone that have been built illegally, or will "adversely affect the environment". Ignoring such an order could result in a fine of R500 000 or five years in prison or community service, or both;

Prohibiting or controlling buildings facing the coastal zone, but located outside it, that might aesthetically or otherwise undermine the zone's precedence over commercial or residential interests; Taking over any private land that falls within the high water mark without compensation; this could be adjusted should the high water mark rise in future;

Declaring portions of private land coastal access land to ensure there are public routes to beaches or other state-owned coastal properties. This can be done without compensation to owners ;

Taking effective control of provincial or municipal environmental management by instructing them to carry out specific actions if he is not happy with the way they manage their coastline;

Creating a national coastal management programme and committee whose decisions override provincial and local committees; and Imposing a coastal zoning scheme that takes precedence over a municipal zoning scheme. Malan says this is to ensure consistency.

The bill attempts to overcome the biggest threat to the coastal environment: poor environmental management by municipalities, most of which are relatively small, or provinces because of lack of skills or corruption.

Malan says that thousands of houses, slipways, jetties and other structures along the coast could be affected. "We are already ordering the demolition of 100 houses on the Groen river and another 100 on the west coast, using other legislation," he says. "But it isn't powerful enough to deal with all the structures."

But he insists that the bill's powers are not excessive. "The powers given to the authorities by the bill are all set within strict processes, including public participation, to ensure they are used transparently and fairly.

"For instance, we intend honouring existing leases and rights and the people who have them have nothing to fear as long as what they are paying for them is market-related and their activity doesn't threaten the environment." But Malan concedes that existing leases and rights will automatically be reduced to a maximum of 49 months until the minister converts them to coastal leases - which he can refuse.

Environmentalists are thrilled with the bill and the rewards of a pristine coastline should be incalculable for tourism and the economy. But the minister's new powers over private property and local authorities may raise serious concerns about infringing existing rights. They could have a tough passage through public participation and parliamentary processes.

The bill comes at a time when government is considering other measures that could affect private coastal property ; this week agriculture & land affairs minister Lulama Xingwana received the final report of the panel of experts appointed to look into the regulation of property purchases by foreigners. The report is likely to be published early next year.

In its interim recommendation, the panel suggested an immediate freeze on the sale of properties to foreigners, but that was rejected by government.

Publisher: Kortbroek gets new teeth
Source: Ian Fife

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