After lodging a complaint with the South African Police Service against the - illegal - demolition of a house at 21/23 Melrose Street; having the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority of Gauteng (PHRA-G) issue a stop work order; and formally objecting to the demolition, iHlathi, the Melrose-Birdhaven Conservancy, has successfully protected the trees on the stand, as confirmed in a formal decision made by PHRA-G's Appeals Committee on November 24.
While the demolition has been upheld, the Appeals Committee has subjected it to specific conditions:
- The large pine tree and all other existing trees (especially the trees along the erf boundary) on the property, where possible, shall be retained and preserved. The Site Development Plan must indicate where a tree cannot be kept.
- All trees on the streetscape, i.e. the two street fronts, of the property shall be retained.
- All trees (inside and on pavement) shall be protected during the construction phase by means of a physical barrier.
- [iHlathi] to be provided with an opportunity to review/give an input on the Site Development Plan prior to submission to the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality.
As a way of background, the Melrose Ratepayers Association (MRA) had opposed the cluster-like development at the corner of Melrose Street and Jameson Avenue, Melrose, but lost on appeal in 2015. The house, however, was more than sixty years old, and fell under the protection of the National Heritage Resources Act (as do all structures that are over sixty years old).
The Conservancy had opposed the demolition on three grounds: (i) the rule of law, which had been flouted by the developers; (ii) the importance of heritage 'context' (the entire stand should be viewed as part of a neighbourhood that has evolved organically); and (iii) the importance of the 'public realm', which would be damaged by the proposed development - a gated community, for all purposes.
The decision made by the Appeals Committee represents a significant precedent - the Committee has confirmed that trees, and not only houses, do fall under the National Heritage Resources Act, and that the 'context' of a neighbourhood matters as much as its buildings. Johannesburg, and Gauteng as a whole, can only benefit from this decision, which will help preserve our important urban forest.
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iHlathi ('the forest' in isiZulu), was established in December 2014 for the Birdhaven, Melrose, Melrose Estate and Melrose North suburbs, and is registered with the Gauteng Conservancy and Stewardship Association. It aims to help develop a 'Green Meander' between Rosebank and Melrose Arch.
The suburbs of Melrose-Birdhaven are historical residential areas of Johannesburg that form a diverse natural heritage area, with major parks such as RH Henderson and James and Ethel Gray; an important stream - the Sandspruit - and associated wetlands; as well as significant tree cover on both public and private grounds.
The Conservancy is supported by the Birdhaven, Melrose and Melrose North residents associations, the Ward Councillor, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. iHlathi has also partnered with City Parks and Zoo.