The illegally built R3m Mosselbaai beach house, near Elands Bay on the west coast, pictured in July 2013, about one year after completion. Picture: JOHN YELD
The illegally built R3m Mosselbaai beach house, near Elands Bay on the west coast, pictured in July 2013, about one year after completion. Picture: JOHN YELD

The owner of an illegally constructed R3m west coast beach house has been fined R175,000 by the provincial environmental authority — and may still be ordered to demolish it completely and rehabilitate the site.

The fine has to be paid before the Western Cape’s department of environmental affairs and development planning will process the owner's application for condonation of the illegal construction.

The house was built about 35m from the high-water mark on a long, narrow 97ha strip of property that is part of Mosselbaai Farm, about 3km south of Elands Bay. The property is owned by Milnerton-based businessperson Parkin Emslie through his company, Ranger Outback Promotions.

The saga of the illegal construction has dragged on for more than seven years.

The house was built in 2011-2012 without permission in terms of the National Environmental Management Act —­ a legal requirement because it is within the proclaimed 100m coastal strip ­— and without building plans being approved by the Cederberg municipality before construction started.

The national department of environmental affairs’ oceans and coasts branch has recommended that the property owner be issued with a ‘removal and repair notice’ as soon as possible.

Emslie also failed to inform Heritage Western Cape about construction of the house ­— another legal requirement because the property includes a midden that was proclaimed as a provincial heritage site in April 2009.

Mike Taylor’s Midden is a highly significant heritage site, described as “the only open site with remains from the early pottery period in the Elands By and Lamberts Bay areas” and “probably the largest among the 13 mega-middens known to exist along the west coast of SA”.

Building work on the house started in 2011, and other “low-key” infrastructure developed on the property includes four wooden “cabins”, all cast on concrete floors, a network of informal roads to various cabins, caravan sites with shade mesh and wall screens, outdoor showers and toilets, and plank walkways linking a number of cabins.

In June 2012, after local residents and environmentalists had started demanding answers from the authorities about the lack of formal approvals for the nearly completed beach house, Ranger Outback Promotions submitted a section 24G application in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, seeking ex post facto planning, environmental and heritage approval for the illegal construction.

An environmental impact assessment: heritage report was compiled and submitted in December 2012 but was deemed by provincial heritage authority Heritage Western Cape to be “insufficient and inadequate” for the protection of archaeological resources. The authority asked for a conservation management plan to be compiled, and that was only submitted in April 2018.

An environmental management programme was submitted in December 2015, and the site was inspected by departmental officials in May 2016.

Finally, on November 16 2018, the department served notice on Ranger Outback Promotions of an “administrative fine” of R175,000, to be paid within 60 days, before it would process the section 24G application. The maximum fine for such applications is R1m.

In a letter signed by advocate Charmaine Maré, the department's director for environmental governance, the company was told that “payment of the administrative fine is not an authorisation for the consequences of unlawful commencement of a listed activity/activities according to the National Environmental Management Act”, and that it had to be paid “before the competent authority may consider your report and thereafter issue or refuse an environmental authorisation”.

The national department of environmental affairs’ oceans and coasts branch has recommended that the section 24G application be rejected and that the property owner be issued with a “removal and repair notice” as soon as possible.

Ag, I’m not going to tell you a story. I was a naughty boy doing it.
Businessman Parkin Emslie, in 2013

In its comment, provincial conservation authority CapeNature said it did not support any development within the coastal management zone. “The new structures are as close as 30m-35m from the high-water mark and are built unacceptably close to the frontal dunes. CapeNature would not have supported the use of the development site had this development been applied for through a regular environmental impact assessment process.”

In response to questions by Times Select, the department said the section 24G application process had been prolonged “due to the sensitive nature of the site, in particular the heritage aspects”.

There had not been any appeal against the levying of the administrative fine within the stipulated 20-day appeal period.

The department said it was aware the beach house had been damaged in a fire in 2018 and would “take this into consideration with all other environmental aspects when further processing the 24G application”.

Emslie declined to comment. But in a 2013 newspaper interview with the author of this article, Emslie acknowledged the illegality of the construction work but defended his development.

“I’m not going to tell you a story. I was a naughty boy doing it,”  he said at the time. “Zoom in on Google Earth — there’s virtually no damage done. The only vegetation removed was really where the deck (overlooking the sea) is, the rest is all pathways. I didn’t go in there and bulldoze everything flat ... [Critics] don’t look at the good things we’re doing ... We look after that piece of land.”