Highclere appeal

Dr DW Van der Zel, president, Habitat Council

Once upon a time, around 1850, there was a farm house complex “Die Muisnes” in the Bloubergstrand area.

A decade later, the complex was subdivided, and a separate two-bed-house came into being.

Sir Langham Dale, at the time about 50 years old, purchased this property in 1877 as a retirement-cum-holiday-cum-refuge home, with an unlimited sea shore view.

Sir Langham had emigrated to South Africa in 1848, from the village Kingsclere in Hampshire, England. He named his new South African residence after Highclere, a neighbouring village in Hampshire, England.

Sir Langham, on the establishment of UCT, the first university in South Africa, was elected the vice-chancellor in 1873, and chancellor in 1890.

On his death, in 1898, the unique local vernacular house, built from sea shells, stone and sea pebbles, with a sandy clay mortar, was sold to George Henry Stevens and remained in that family until 1951.

The property was subdivided in 1969 and bought by Blue Peter Holdings in 1991.

The dwelling was used as staff quarters until late in the 1990s, after which it was purposefully allowed to degrade with the object to demolish it.

The building is a rare (one of five or six remaining) example of a 19th century Bloubergstrand seaside cottage.

It lost its primary relationship with the sea due to several subdivisions, but is set among mature milkwood trees and a separate boundary wall built from the same mix of sea shells, sea pebbles and stones, providing a unique natural setting in its own right.

The first application to demolish the house was made to the National Monuments Council in September 1998, and was refused. A second and third application were made in August 1999 and August 2004. An appeal was served in December 2004, with the November 2006 Heritage Western Cape’s appeal court ruling that “ there was insufficient justification to support demolition of the house”.

Significantly, the court also ruled that the house be nominated for provincial declaration as a provincial heritage site.

In November 2006 it was decided to proceed with the provincial declaration, but it was never carried out.

On November 17 2011, a new demolition application was submitted to the Heritage Western Cape’s Built Environment and Landscape Committee, under the chairmanship of Dr Steve Townsend, which approved the demolition.

An appeal was made by interested parties, and, on March 20 2012, Heritage Western Cape again found that “ there was insufficient justification to support demolition of the house”.

This, and previous appeals, were made by a group of concerned local citizens, who claim to have spent R200 000 before they lost motivation (and were discouraged by high legal fees) before Habitat Council and Captrust, in the form of Marie-Lou Roux, stepped in.

She drew up a petition to retain Highclere, Bloubergstrand, which eventually received nearly 500 signed supporters.

On May 7 2012, the court again repeated its findings, for the fifth time, and ordered Heritage Western Cape to grade and investigate protection of Highclere.

On October 31 2013, Blue Peter Holdings appealed to the Ministerial Tribunal to have the decision set aside.

Again, after three sittings, the tribunal dismissed their application. Only on March 6 2015, the City of Cape Town in writing protected Highclere for three months.

In January 2015, Blue Peter Holdings again appealed for total demolition. It was only tabled on June 17 2015. The matter was only heard by the court on October 10 2016.

The decision this time, only given on March 17 2017, was to cancel previous decisions to not allow demolition, with the brief to the provincial MEC of Cultural Affairs and Sport to appoint a new independent tribunal for redetermination of the applicant’s appeal.

The department has since notified Habitat Council that it is in the process of appointing this new independent council.

In a letter to Marie-Lou Roux by our pro bono advocate Neil Barton, he confirms that leave of appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal was granted.

For that purpose a bond of security for the cost of the appeal, calculated by the advocate at R50 000 was requested of us (Habitat Council/Captrust and 500 other interested parties).

He informed me on Friday November 10 that a sufficient (although not the full) amount has been deposited.

I granted him power of attorney to put our case to the court.