A recent court case over a new industrial development in Durban, brought to the High Court in Durban, raised key questions about industrial development and environmental sustainability. The case was between the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and the provincial MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Sihle Zikalala.
The SDCEA is a civic organisation that aims to protect the sustainability and quality of air, water and soil. They were opposed to the construction of the new logistics and distribution centre, that was approved by Zikalala, in the South Durban Industrial Basin. This development entailed the construction of warehouses, buildings, parking spaces and a heavy-duty logistics yard.
The SDCEA were concerned that this development would be detrimental to the air quality and pose health risks to the nearby residential communities. Furthermore, noise from the heavy equipment and the new influx of lorries would pose risks to schoolchildren who walk along the route to school.
Prior to the approval of the development, environmental impact assessments were conducted and reports compiled by the MEC’s department. The SDCEA appealed the authorisation of the development, but to no avail, forcing them to launch an application with the High Court to intervene.
Arguments in the case
There were four main arguments presented by the SDCEA as to why the development should be scrapped. According to the organisation:
- the MEC failed to take into consideration two major health studies that suggested that surrounding communities would be at risk of respiratory diseases and cancer if the development was approved.
- the report presented to the MEC prior to his approval did not assess the current health of the surrounding communities or document the number of people already living with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
- the report submitted to the MEC did not use the appropriate methodology and the author’s qualifications were omitted, and therefore called into question.
- the MEC did not consider the principle of environmental justice, which requires him to look at the environmental damage caused by the development and ensure that no person would be discriminated against during the development’s construction.
The MEC opposed these arguments, stating that the authorisation was lawful and that the environmental impact report had met all the necessary requirements. His lawyers argued that the air quality would be minimally affected by the increased emissions and that the two health reports were indeed considered in his process, but needed no further investigation.
Key questions raised during the case
The balance between industrial development and air pollution was the pivotal notion throughout the court case. Section 24 of the South African Constitution states that everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being and that laws are passed to secure ecologically-sustainable development.
There are many laws that strive to find the right balance between the two competing issues, but a resolution depends on how these laws are interpreted. On the one hand, the constitutional rights to a healthy environment of the community must be met, but on the other hand, the economic advantages and job production from the development could be advantageous to the community.
The logistics park is expected to create 19 000 jobs during the construction stage and around 4000 permanent jobs once it is completed. The High Court’s judgement has not been announced yet, but the case has brought to light the need to progress industry at a minimal cost to the environment.
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