Vergesig cell tower goes up

Contractors erecting the 25-metre cell mast on Friday February 2.

Vergesig residents are devastated after a 25-metre-high cell tower went up at a Durbanville church last week – despite a lengthy battle to stop it.

Residents have fought the tower for more than a year and had pinned hopes on a pending High Court case against mayor Patricia de Lille’s decision to approve it.

But their hopes were dashed on Friday February 2 when the tower went up.

The Cape Party filed court papers in the Western Cape High Court late last year, on behalf of the residents. The City filed opposing papers in January.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said: “No basis has been established for overturning the decision. The decision was taken in accordance with the by-law, including the necessary levels of public comment and participation.”

This comes after a consulting company, Highwave Consultants, appealed a decision by the Municipal Planning Tribunal to reject its application for the cell tower at AGS Church, in St John’s Road, Vergesig.

The original application by the church to let Highwave build the 25m-high tower, was supported by the City’s town planner but rejected by the tribunal in April last year (“Tribunal rejects cell mast application,” Northern News, May 4 2017) because it would have been on the crest of a rise and posed too much of a negative visual impact.

The application drew 96 objections during its public comment period in November 2016 and 202 residents signed a petition against the tower.

They said the mast would hurt property values, make it harder to sell their homes, ruin the area’s rural feel and possibly even harm their health (“Residents say no to tower,” Northern News, November 10 2016).

They complained the plan to build the mast had not been well publicised. And they said the mast was not needed as there were no cellphone reception problems in the area.

In September, the Mayor’s Advisory Panel (MAP) upheld Highwave’s appeal and set aside the tribunal’s decision to stop the mast. (“Panel approves Vergesig tower,” Northern News, September 28 2017).

Vergesig-Aurora Residents’ Association chairwoman Verne Jankielsohn said they had written to various members of the DA and the City to help with their fight but to no avail. They had approached the Cape Party, which agreed to take on the case pro-bono.

Advocate Carlo Viljoen said the Cape Party promoted the principle of direct democracy, endorsing the idea that the people of an area should make decisions regarding their lives and not a politician, and therefore decided to take on this case.

“It’s clear in this instance that the will of the people was not to have a mast erected. In addition, it’s clear that there is no need for the mast and that the erection of the mast is an illogical step by the DA, based on considerations outside the will of the people,legal considerations or need,” he said.

Mr Viljoen said they were waiting on the City to supply them with reasons for their decision before they could request a date to have the matter heard.

Ms Jankielsohn was devastated when she saw the tower going up last week. She said she would consider moving as she did not want to subject herself to the tower and what she felt were its associated health-risks. Many other residents would not have any other choice but too stay, she said.

“People have invested their life-savings into their homes and cannot afford to move. What about the elderly, they can’t go and start over now?” she said.

Retha Benade, a cancer survivor, has been renting in Vergesig since 2009. She said she would also move if the tower went up as she did not know what effects it could have on her health.

“After going through chemo and everything I had to endure, I can’t put my health at risk,” she said.

Ms Benade said she felt bad for people who had bought property in the area.