It’s high noon for Highclere


Highclere, the historic cottage, at 6 Rancke Road, Bloubergstrand, could be demolished if an order by the Western Cape High Court is made permanent later this month (“Historic home left in limbo,” Tabletalk, November 25, 2015).

Last week, the court granted a rule nisi, setting aside a 2013 decision by an independent ministerial appeal tribunal to refuse permission for the demolition of Highclere.

A rule nisi is an interim conditional order, often in the absence of the person against whom the relief is being sought, calling upon the person to give reasons why a final order, as specified in the rule nisi, should not be granted.

It was the decision to refuse permission for demolition, which Blue Peter Holdings, owners of Highclere, took to the High Court.

The next court appearance is on Friday May 27, and those fighting for the survival of the cottage fear the order could be made permanent, paving the way for Highclere’s demolition.

The property is one of the last original cottages in Blaauwberg and was the holiday home of Sir Langham Dale, Superintendent-General of Education for the Cape Colony between 1859 and 1882.

It predates 1870 and has been owned by Blue Peter Holdings, the Durban-based company of the Rattray family, since 1991. The family also own the nearby Blue Peter Hotel.

The City of Cape Town, which is responsible for issuing demolition permits, confirmed the temporary order by the court.

Mayco member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, Johan van der Merwe, said: “This is a temporary order that will, barring any opposition, be made final at the next court appearance.”

Tabletalk has a copy of an email sent to Blue Peter Holdings’ legal representative (Randall Titus, of Thomson Wilks Inc) on Monday May 9, and a day before the court appearance, from a member of the City’s legal services, who writes: “Please be advised that the City does not intend to oppose this matter. My instructions are, however, that the City intends to file an explanatory affidavit.”

In November last year, the City, told Tabletalk that it considered Highclere of “high local heritage siginificance”.

It said it was considering the formal protection of Highclere under the Heritage Protection Overlay Zone of the City’s zoning scheme.

In an email on Tuesday May 17, Tabletalk asked the City why it did not oppose the matter in court, and what the content of the supporting affidavit is, given what it said about Highclere’s significance, in November last year.

“The decision, which was taken on review, was that of the Independent Appeals Tribunal which was appointed by the Provincial Authority in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act. It was, therefore, not a decision that was made by the City or its internal committees,” Mr Van der Merwe answered.

Tabletalk approached Mr Titus for comment, but in an email on Friday May 13, he said: “Unfortunately, we have not been able to contact our client since we spoke telephonically earlier this morning in order to obtain its instructions.”

A subsequent email enquiry on Monday May 16 was not answered. For its part, the City said it had not issued a demolition permit “ to date”.

Susan Starke, one of the people who have long campaigned for Highclere’s preservation, said the cottage should be preserved for future generations. Heritage activists have long battled against plans to demolish Highclere, and they’ve watched the house decline over the years.

In November last year, Ms Starke told Tabletalk the house had become derelict in 2010, describing it as heartbreaking for Blouberg residents.

Roy Fuller-Gee, chairman of the Friends of the Blaauwberg Conservation Area (FoBCA), said Bloubergstrand would “lose a national treasure forever”.

He blamed the government for Highclere’s demise.

“This is another instance where the legislative body – Heritage Western Cape and the City of Cape Town have failed to enforce heritage protection,” he said.

Habitat Council chairwoman Mari-Lou le Roux shares this sentiment, citing years of inaction in getting heritage protection for Highclere.

In November last year, she said the City and Blaauwberg Sub-council had a “moral and legal responsibility” to protect Highclere from further degradation.

Tabletalk approached Heritage Western Cape (HWC) for comment on Friday May 13, and Monday May 16, via email and telephonically, but it was not forthcoming by the time this edition went to print. Last year, then interim chairman Dr Errol Myburg said it had “no intention of declaring Highclere as a provincial heritage site.”

New chairman, Mxolisi Dlamuka, we were told, was in a management meeting on Monday and had to be briefed on the Highclere case by the HWC official who dealt with it.

Tabletalk emailed questions to the Rattray family on Thursday May 12, but had not received a response by the time this edition went to print.