The redevelopment project will transform the current site currently used as a private golf course and conferencing facility, with controlled and limited access, into an accessible space for all Capetonians to enjoy. Other than the offices and residential space the site will be open to the public with recreational spaces, cycle and running / walking paths, heritage/ eco trails, a retail offering and a proposed 65m to 75m wide, internal ecological park. It will be secure but not be a “gated” community.

The River Club site is primely located in the midst of a transformed urban environment on land, but which has remained largely undeveloped. As a result, it has conferred a natural sense of place to some surrounding (urban) inhabitants. While the green open space, with rivers and views of Devil’s Peak provide interest in the landscape, and contribute to the visual quality, there are also elements that detract from this quality, notably the derelict and industrial land to the north and the M5 freeway to the east. 

The proposed redevelopment will include significant open (65% of the site), landscaped space that will enhance the indigenous flora and fauna of the area. It will also be accessible for the enjoyment of the general public, while delivering numerous other benefits including job creation, small business opportunities, affordable housing and a new independent school.  

There are large open areas surrounding the River Club property that will remain in public ownership, and will continue to form part of the public open space system.

The redevelopment plans are sensitive to the context and existing surroundings of the proposed buildings.

The tallest buildings on the site will be limited to 9 stories above ground.

The higher buildings have been specifically planned for construction next to the neighbouring industrial area, PRASA rail yard and Berkley Road extension.

Buildings opposite the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) will be lower in height than other parts of the site (between 1 and 4 stores above ground level).

The height variation forms part of the development proposal and will be regulated and enforced by the approving authorities considering the redevelopment proposal. The City’s Urban Design Policy and the Tall Building Policy will inform this decision.

A comprehensive independent Heritage Impact Assessment found no tangible physical relics or archaeology of heritage significance on the River Club site.

Rather, the study found that the broader floodplains (of which the River Club site forms a part – 5%) along the two river corridors and well beyond was a place of early conflict between indigenous peoples and settlers. The Assessment found that the Liesbeek River is the remaining tangible resource which has  heritage and cultural value. For this reason, the Liesbeek River, as a heritage resource, warrants safeguarding and restoration as it runs along the River Club site.

In this context, the project team, including the heritage specialists, see this redevelopment as an opportunity to re-establish the Liesbeek River corridor as:

  • A river of historical significance
  • A valuable ecological system
  • An intrinsic component of the landscape
  • A public amenity and
  • A positive and symbiotic neighbour to the Raapenburg Wetland & Bird Sanctuary, as well as the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).
 

The proposed plans go beyond the restoration and celebration of the Liesbeek River as a heritage resource.  The River Club has meaningfully engaged with relevant leaders and First Nation representatives on how to sensitively and respectfully memorialise the historical significance of the area, and celebrate the history and culture of the First Nations.

Through these engagements, the First Nations Collective (Gorinhaiqua, Gorachouqua, Cochoqua, San Traditional Royal House of Nǀǀnǂe, the Griqua Royal Council, and the National Khoi and San Council) have expressed their support for the River Club redevelopment proposal.

The First Nations’ continued, meaningful involvement in the proposed redevelopment project is a committed goal.

The redevelopment proposal therefore includes the following:

  1. Establishing a Media  and Cultural  Heritage in a central position in the development;
  2. Establishing an indigenous garden for medicinal plants used by the First Nations;
  3. Further commemorating the history of the First Nations in the area, by:

    • Establishing a Gateway Feature inspired by symbols central to the First Nations narrative at the road crossing the eco-corridor
    • Incorporating symbols central to the First Nations narrative in detailed design of buildings (e.g. pillars / supports, facades, building names) and
    • Naming internal roads inspired by people or symbols central to the First Nations narrative.


The First Nations Collective and its key leaders have also made it clear during these engagements that the indigenous narrative in respect of the area is theirs alone – and it is wrong for other groups or individuals to try to upsurp this narrative for their own agenda.

“We are aware, without a doubt, that there will be detractors, including those who believe that indigenous people stand diametrically opposed to development and are best served by being relegated to an anthropoid fetishised state where they roam perpetually in antiquity without the tools to navigate the modern world.

Others, for their own reasons, will try to maintain the area as a golf course and the riverbanks as rustic, undeveloped spaces, where women and children can be attacked at will.

Our position is that they are entitled to their views, but we must emphasise that indigenous people are not the perpetual children that the colonist and colonial mentality would have us be. On the contrary, it is our view that such paternalistic notions must by themselves be put to the sword, because we, the ones who had been at the frontline of fighting for recognition, restitution and restoration, have elected to exercise agency in our own interest and our progeny.”  – Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan on behalf of the Gorinhaiqua Cultural Council and mandated by the First Nations Collective.

An extensive public participation process that exceeds the requirements of legislation has been conducted by the project team over the past few years, starting in 2015, and is still underway.

The formal consultation has included:

  • Neighbouring land owners and occupiers and other identified stakeholders (including non-governmental and civic associations) have been specifically notified of the proposal on numerous occasions;
  • Stakeholder registration and comment opportunities on documents relating to the process have been advertised in the local press;
  • We have participated in all Heritage Western Cape hearings and prescribed processes together with relevant stakeholders, as guided by Heritage Western Cape;
  • Regular stakeholder notifications advising of comment opportunities on the draft Heritage Impact assessments and pre environmental Basic Assessment reports (BAR) were sent to all registered stakeholders This included First Nations representatives relevant to the area and well beyond;
  • The appointed environmental consultant (SRK Consulting) conducted a public meeting on the baseline findings of specialist assessments in the Scoping stage and pre BAR stages;
  • A 60-day pre-application consultation/comment period on the draft BAR was advertised in local, well-read newspapers and ran from 15 July to 16 September 2019;
  • A public meeting on the draft Basic Impact Assessment Report was advertised during July 2019 and a public meeting was conducted on site during August 2019; and
  • A formal and further 30-day participation period for comment on the updated final draft Basic Impact Assessment Report (including the HIA) is under way.
  • In addition to the River Club public stakeholder engagement processes the Provincial Government and City have engaged in similar public consultation and comment processes and public meetings for the broader Two Rivers area (of which the River Club forms a part)

Our support for this project has been extensively pondered and is primarily a strategic act of indigenous cultural agency where we, as an integral part of the Khoi and San resurgence, act in our own interest to secure a legacy for us and for seven generations into the future for which we are responsible.”  Chief !Garu Zenzile Khoisan behalf of the Gorinhaiqua Cultural Council and mandated by the First Nations Collective

 

In addition to extensive formal public consultation, the River Club owner and its consultants have actively sought and engaged representatives of First Nations peoples continuously over the past three years in formulating the development proposal.

Through the engagements with the First Nations representatives, a further supplementary report was prepared and submitted to Heritage Western Cape, by independent social facilitator Rudewaan Arendse of AFMAS Solutions. This Intangible Report is the first of its kind in the country and serves to locate the River Club site within the Indigenous narrative of the broader Two Rivers Urban  cultural landscape. It makes recommendations on how the First Nations can be represented and meaningfully involved in the redevelopment project.

Through these engagements, representatives of the First Nations peoples relevant to the area  and beyond have expressed their support for the proposed redevelopment. This includes the ongoing memorialisation and celebration of the broader area and Liesbeek River for the First Nations peoples through the proposed Media and Cultural Centre on site. Together with the First Nations leaders, this Centre will form part of the wider benefits to be established on the site for all Capetonians to enjoy.

An independent study by heritage experts found that, although the floodplain of the Liesbeek River was used by people of the First Nations groups for summer grazing, most of the site once formed part of a vast wetland system. The experts found that it is therefore unlikely to have been occupied.  Furthermore, no graves or human remains have been found on the site or are lodged according to the skeleton register at either Iziko Museum or the UCT medical school – the official repositories of such finds.

In fact, the nearest recording of remains of pre-colonial people and archaeological sites are from close to the Diep River estuary in Milnerton – a number of away from the River Club site. 

The experts have concluded that it is therefore highly unlikely that any significant archaeological or palaeontological resources will be uncovered during construction, and the discovery of human remains is considered extremely unlikely by the various independent experts extensively consulted. This is supported by the First Nation Collective narrative who have confirmed that they do not bury their own in wetlands and river courses.

An independent Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) identifies the SAAO as the most significant heritage resource close to the site, mainly due to its scientific history, and is therefore sensitive to development.

 

The setback of the development from the SAAO boundary was therefore one of the key informants of why an alternative redevelopment proposal was designed, called the Riverine Corridor Alternative. This new proposal mitigates impacts on the SAAO as far as practically possible by stepping back development by a minimum of ~40 m from the existing canal (~150 m from the SAAO campus) rehabilitating (and therefore softening) the river course and reducing the heights of buildings directly opposite the SAAO.

 

In the long-term, the rehabilitation of the western bank of the Liesbeek canal and the creation of the movement corridor may also create opportunities for the SAAO to further rehabilitate the river course and integrate with the public at the River Club development, with the potential to celebrate the heritage of this historically significant complex.

An independent biodiversity assessment of the current site was conducted by a team of experts including a freshwater ecologist, avifaunal specialist, faunal specialist (with specific expertise in herpetology), surface water hydrologist, a botanist, and a hydrogeologist.

Their comprehensive expert assessment concluded that the proposed redevelopment will include an improved environment – particularly for the Western Leopard Toad inhabiting the area.

The assessment found that rivers surrounding the site are currently severely degraded; that the canal is a sterile aquatic environment; and that reed-bed wetlands fronting the site are of low ecological value.  The nearby Raapenburg Wetland is the only area of high local ecological sensitivity near the site but is not expected to be negatively affected by the development.

Further, the assessment found that terrestrial areas of the site do not host any indigenous plant communities, but do provide low quality terrestrial faunal habitat, and that they function as a faunal movement corridor (most importantly for the Western Leopard Toad). 

Noting the currently degraded / transformed nature of the site and surrounding aquatic environments, the assessment concluded that by removing the canal and extensively rehabilitating this course of the Liesbeek River, the proposed redevelopment will lead to an improvement in the quality of aquatic and terrestrial faunal habitat adjacent to the site, including for the Western Leopard Toad.

“Positive impacts would be associated with improved connectivity between the Raapenberg Wetlands and the site (e.g. as a result of canal rehabilitation) as well as the active establishment of large areas of indigenously vegetated open space corridors and riverine buffer areas.” – Specialist Environmental Impact Assessment Report: Biodiversity – aquatic ecosystems, flora and fauna compiled by Freshwater Consulting cc.

An experienced, multi-disciplinary expert team conduced a surface water hydrology assessment. The team concluded that the proposed redevelopment will have no significant impact on current flooding in the adjacent urban area, including at the Valkenberg Wetland or South African Astronomical Observatory. And where impacts have been assessed (albeit insignificant) engineering mitigation measures have been proposed.

“The main conclusion of this study is that the proposed development would have an insignificant effect on flooding in the vicinity of the existing River Club site. Although the development would have some limited localised effects on flows and water levels in the Liesbeek and Black Rivers, the modelled impacts in terms of increased hazard and potential damage to properties are insignificant and can be considered to be negligible.” – Investigation into the impact of the proposed redevelopment of the River Club on flooding and flood abatement in the Salt River Catchment compiled by Aurecon.

20% of the 150 000 m2 of floor area proposed at the River Club mixed use development (i.e. 30 000 m2) will be allocated to residential use, with 20% of this residential component (6 000 m2) being allocated to inclusionary housing. The affordable housing units will be integrated into the project and blend in with the surrounding buildings and will be subsidised by the developer.

A number of road upgrades are proposed and form part of the project proposal. These will be partially funded by substantial developer contributions during the initial construction phase.

Other upgrades are also expected to be done by the City of Cape Town when funding becomes available. 

An independent Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) found that the Liesbeek Parkway between Link Road and Malta Road is already operating at capacity, and that planned upgrades, in particular the dualling of the Liesbeek Parkway, are already required. These will be implemented as a result of the redevelopment. The TIA also found that during off-peak periods the new planned link between Berkley Road and Liesbeek Parkway through the development can reduce travel times between the M5 and Observatory by between 10% and 40%.

Furthermore, the Berkley Road extension forms part of the City’s existing traffic master planning for the sub-region. Its implementation will improve access to the Central Business District from the east, and is anticipated to be of significant benefit to road users (and City functioning).

A Traffic Impact Assessment has found that the extension of Berkley Road could reduce critical travel times between the M5 and Observatory during off-peak periods by between 10% and 40%.

The Berkley Road extension has been planned for over 70 years. It was originally indicated as a Proclaimed Main Road (MR149), in terms of the Roads Ordinance 1949 (Ordinance 12 of 1949) and in Provincial Gazette 385 of 1968. The Berkley Road extension has since appeared on the CoCT’s Road Network Plan, including in the latest version published in the Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan (CITP – 2018 – 2023).  Additionally, the land on which the road would be built is zoned for transport for this specific purpose and is owned by the City of Cape Town. Officials from the City’s road network planning department have confirmed that this road link is indeed a key project in the City’s road network plan but will only be implemented when the necessary funding becomes available.

Now, the River Club redevelopment provides an opportunity for the City to fund this road from the private sector. This will take place through development contributions that will be payable to the City if the development is approved.

The extension of Berkley Road therefore forms part of the application for environmental approval (EA) and a water use licence (WUL) for the project. Specialist ecological and hydrological recommendations have been incorporated into the conceptual design of the crossings/bridges required for the extension, together with their design and construction in accordance with the Environmental Management Programme (EMPr) for the project.