‘No’ to cell mast

Municipality refuses application for NGK church land

NDLAMBE Municipality has rejected a controversial application to build a cell tower on the property of the Port Alfred Dutch Reformed Church in Broadway, Forest Downs.

There were numerous objections to the proposed cell tower from neighbours and surrounding community members when the application first came to light in May last year.

Objectors even staged a protest with placards denouncing the proposal outside the church while members arrived for Sunday services, which resulted in some heated conversations.

FLASHBACK: About 20 residents staged a protest against a proposed cell tower on the property of the Dias Dutch Reformed Church as church members arrived for the service in May last year Picture: JON HOUZET

Some church members were under the impression that the church board was merely in discussions with BJB Project Services and did not realise a contract had been signed and how far along the process was.

After the public outcry, Dias NGK minister Wikus Venter sent a letter to one of the objectors, Dawie van Wyk of the Port Alfred Residents and Ratepayers Association (Parra), in which he explained the church had decided to “withdraw from the process of possible erection of cellphone towers in Nemato, Port Alfred, Bushman’s River as well as Boknes”.

However, it later emerged that the process was beyond the church’s control as it had signed over power of attorney to the cell mast company, Atlas Towers. BJB Projects was appointed to produce the application for departure with Ndlambe town planning and notices were placed calling for public comment and objections by June 30 last year.

Residents submitted objections to the municipality based on health concerns over electromagnetic radiation, the way the process was being conducted, and the impact of the towers on property values.

Van Wyk and another objecting neighbour, Charles Pellew, met with Venter before the deadline and said the outcome of the meeting was that the church would support the objections, as it could not get out of the agreements signed with Atlas Tower and BJB Projects without incurring expense.

The church also placed an advertisement in Talk of the Town on June 15 last year, in which it stated that initial idea of the project was for community benefit, as all rental income from the masts would have gone toward community projects that the church is involved in.

But in wanting to maintain a positive relationship with the community, the church council decided to withdraw from the project.

With power of attorney, however, Atlas Towers continued with the application.

In a letter to BJB Project Services dated April 13, Ndlambe Municipality’s acting director of infrastructural development, Onke Sopela, said the company had failed to provide additional information asked for in previous correspondence, nor responded in time, and the application was “refused for consideration”.

“The file is hereby closed,” Sopela said.

Among the issues BJB Projects had been asked to address in a letter in February was its contention that there were no restrictive conditions for the NGK property, but the municipality pointed out there were title deed restrictions and an application to remove them needed to be made.

The municipality also asked for a copy of the church council resolution granting Venter to act on behalf of the church and to also provide the lease agreement signed to this effect.

“The proposed structure encroaches on building lines and this has not been addressed,” town planning manager Ntombi Ngxwashula wrote in the February letter.

“The motivational report must be revisited and ensure that the Spluma [Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act] principles are addressed and the compliance with the Ndlambe SDF [spatial development framework],” she said.

An approval from the SA Civil Aviation Authority was also required.

Van Wyk and other objectors welcomed the municipality’s decision.