Clarity needed on coastal bill

The new integrated Coastal Management Bill has been set up to "protect the coast", but there seems to be an amount of uncertainty over what this actually means and who actually owns the land.

There is "ambiguity" in certain clauses of the new integrated Coastal Management Bill, warns Peter Venter, chairperson of the Western Cape branch of the Institute of Estate Agents. This, he says, affects the "status of, and confidence in, coastal properties — ultimately reducing their value".

Protecting the coast

"The thinking behind the act, and the goals it sets, are in line with international conservation rulings, and recognise that coastal property belongs not to any one individual but to the nation, while sensitive coastal and estuarine areas need ongoing protection," says Venter.

"In line with this thinking access to certain areas has to be maintained while the public have, at the same time, to be prevented from damaging them."

The rights of the state

"To achieve this, the minister for environmental affairs will be given the right to take over, as public property, certain state coastal land and to buy or exchange, if necessary by expropriation, private land that is deemed to be within the sensitive areas."

"The act also makes a provision for the establishment of a coastal buffer zone to protect the prime coastal areas."

A sensitive balance

Venter says that while it is true that some coastal landowners have not respected the public’s access rights to beaches and estuaries, the act is not clear on what rights the landowners will still retain.

"There is a danger that the delicate balance between the rights of the public and those of exacting property owners will not be maintained — clarification is necessary here if values are not to be undermined."

Who will really own the land?

The Institute of Estate Agents is also concerned about clauses in the act which stipulate that land below the high-water mark lost due to sea-level rises, flooding, erosion, storms or other natural causes cannot be reclaimed and will, in effect, become public property.

"No time limit is mentioned here. Supposing a change at a later stage reinstates or adds to portions of the property — with whom will the ownership rights then reside?"

These matters are particularly relevant now that we are in an era of global warming which, it is predicted, will not be brought under control in under 15 or more years and which will raise sea levels and increase the annual occurrences of severe weather, he adds.

Leaves owners vunerable

''There are a number of instances in the act where existing property owners will be obliged to accept changes, accommodate access by the public and even lose land, without the state accepting any responsibility towards property owners."

The situation is "unbalanced and unfair". Existing property owners may be the losers, as it is not clearly spelt out in the act how private ownership of land will be affected, concludes Venter.

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