Public participation in environmental decision making: Community opposition to the Lombardy East Social Housing Project

Tebeila, Mashienyane Geniver
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The Constitution of South Africa recognises public participation as a right by all South African citizens. Section 32 of the bill of rights chapter, states that every South African citizen has a right to access of information. This means that those implementing development projects are mandated by law to carry out the public participation process with the affected public before implementation. The public has a right to access to any information concerning a proposed development that will take place in their space and has a right to freedom of expression, as per section 16 in the bill of rights chapter, in giving input and raising concerns with regards to a proposed development. However, public participation does not automatically guarantee a mutually agreeable solution as the interests of various stakeholders vary and are often conflicting. The public participation process is not a simple process and can be a tug-of-war between the different role players who have different interests in the outcome of the decision making process. Community opposition to development projects is one of the actions that prove that the public participation process can at times be a frustrating process where the different interested and affected parties (I&APs) and the project implementers do not reach consensus and can result in an unresolved dispute. The aim of this research was to determine the nature of the public participation process for the proposed Lombardy East Social Housing Project and how different interests concerning the project are addressed. The Lombardy East Social Housing Project was proposed by the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality (COJMM) in 2014. The project has not materialised due to opposition by the Greater Lombardy East Residents Association (GLERA).The project developer proposed to rezone the property from government to residential use. The rezoning application was submitted in 2014by the Johannesburg Social Housing Company (JOSHCO) on behalf of the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality. In terms of its original context, the site is located south of Alexandra Township which falls within the M1, N3 and London road triangle. The site is located in the vicinity of Marlboro, Buccleuch and Bramley suburbs, approximately 12km north-east of the Johannesburg CBD. Towards the South of the site is a medium-income tree-lined suburban neighbourhood (Lombardy East). The research was guided by the following questions. 1. Who are the different role players in the project (I&AP) and what different interests do they have in relation to the project? 2. What is the nature of the Lombardy East Social Housing Project and what steps have been followed to implement it and what is the current status of the project? 3. What arguments are raised in favour of the proposed project and what objections are raised against the project? 4. What public participation process/strategies were employed by the project implementers? How were the I&APs being engaged in the process and how are their views addressed? Was the final decision based on the concerns of the I&APs? 5. How are different interests managed through the public participation process? A qualitative research design was used for the study and data was collected through semi-structured interviews and document analysis was also used as a means to gather data. The Lombardy East residents, project implementers, ward councillor and ward committee members were used as the study sample as they possessed substantial knowledge about the nature of the entire public participation process of the Lombardy East Social Housing Project, and they gave most relevant information to answer the research questions. The key findings of the research highlight the magnitude of different interests with regards to the proposed project. There were five main reasons given in favour of the project: the need for affordable housing; the need for well located housing; the need to make use of existing infrastructure through infill development; the need to use the land for formal development to prevent land invasions, illegal dumping and crime; and the need to generate employment opportunities. Meanwhile those arguing against the project offered three main objections: the project would have negative environmental impacts; it was based on poor town planning; and they argued that the developer had a poor track record with completing and managing projects. The findings of the research also indicate that public participation process cannot always resolve the various conflicts even when implemented correctly thus it is sometimes necessary to compromise and make an executive decision in the greater public interest.
A research report submitted to the Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Masters in Environmental Sciences by course work and research report, May 2019
Tebeila, Mashienyane Geniver. (2019). Public participation in environmental decision making :community opposition to the Lombardy East social housing project. University of the Witwatersrand,