21 May 2012
In today’s world, it is essential that communities especially property developers are involved in various initiatives to protect natural resources.
Environmental legislation is particularly relevant in the development industry as both government and developers work towards the same goal: a healthy, sustainable environment for all South Africans.
As such, the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) Legislation has been introduced as a tool to ensure sustainable development.
While Environmental Impact Assessment (EIAs) are an important tool in this process, they do pose certain challenges for developers.
A critical aspect is timing and this is particularly challenging when awaiting feedback from the Departments, especially when public participation has been involved.
The Departments have a backlog of applications and this can delay projects considerably.
Variances in the way the legislation is interpreted affects how land can be utilised and in turn, poses a risk to investment.
While developers use independent teams to conduct an EIA’s once the application is submitted to government, it may be interpreted differently by their teams.
Ultimately, this hinders any type of planning when it comes to the use of land, and such uncertainty is a challenge to investment.
Of course, the EIA offers a number of advantages, both from an environmental and development perspective.
Developments with beautiful parks and gardens have significant benefits for both the community and the environment.
These are factors which may have been ignored in the past due to cost implications but today are a matter of compliance – with major advantages.
On the downside, certain measures or obligations government impose on developers have major cost implications on projects.
For example, one may be instructed to clean out a silt basin.
This is an impractical suggestion, after all, how do you clean out a river that has dried up
Another example, where tracts of land must be sacrificed to accommodate newly imposed measures for water polishing – it is more than just the value of the land that is sacrificed, but it places an enormous obligation on the developer to maintain it.
It is required that you keep it free of silt and rubbish not forgetting the associated security risk.
While business understands the need for sustainable development, there needs to be a reciprocal understanding of the impact on investment and a desire to engage the developer in an effort to find a more suitable alternative.
However, I believe that South Africa must be commended for having a well regulated environmental act in place in the form of the NEMA.
When it comes to guidance and policing around the Act, a shortage of resources and capacity is problematic.
I would like to see industry working more closely with government and engaging better with the relevant departments.
At the end of the day, we have the same objectives at heart, to grow the country in an economically sustainable manner, while ensuring our environmental heritage remains intact.
Ultimately, it’s a case of pulling together and compromising.
Government has two equally important mandates – growing the South African economy while ensuring such growth does not occur at the expense of the environment.
There are a number of resources that we can use to ensure we have an understanding of the legislation and comply with from the initial feasibility stages of a project.
Bridging the gap between capitalist and environmental perspectives is entirely possible – with the right amount of commitment and compromise from both sides.
The legislation is well structured and the system works from a business perspective, we just need to take the time to understand and enforce it. - Stefano Contardo
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