Taking the eina out of EIAs

In addition to proper plans, building may require an environmental impact assessment, says Roelof Bezuidenhout.

Taking the eina out of EIAs
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Since 2009, the Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) has fined farmers millions of rands and even taken them to court for criminal transgressions under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). Most cases involve clearing of indigenous vegetation, road construction, dam building, erecting fences and cutting off water  courses.

Authorisation is required for any listed activity and, depending on the extent of the activity, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) may be necessary. Examples include building a dam wall higher than 5m or a dam that covers 10ha or more when full, clearing 5ha or more of vegetation where 75% or more of the area consists of indigenous plants, and widening an existing road by more than 4m, or making it 1km longer.

Specific regulations apply to feedlots and poultry housing, depending on capacity. With many of the old agricultural extension offices now dysfunctional, it is not easy to connect with the right people, those who can supply all the information you require to determine whether or not an EIA is needed.

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Often, more than one department is involved. An example is the meat hygiene section of the veterinary services within the department of agriculture, as well as in DEDEAT in the case of a commercial farm abattoir. Neither is it easy to budget for the exercise. Certain government departments charge for the application, while private environmental consultants are sometimes accused of loading their fees for smaller projects. The result is that an EIA for a relatively minor earth-moving project may cost more than the bulldozing job itself.

Another important factor to consider is the impact that the proposed activity – such as a dam, pipeline or commercial feedlot –
could have on the surrounding environment as well as on individuals or communities in the vicinity. Probably the best place to start your research on the need for EIAs is with AgriSA, TAU SA or some other farmer’s union, if you are member. Otherwise, contact your nearest DEDEAT office.

That holiday home
Rural dwellers who have grown used to building without authorisation can get an unpleasant surprise should they follow the same practice when adding a room to their beach house, for example. Do not try to get away without proper plans and inspections. You could even be forced by court order to demolish unauthorised additions, especially if neighbours complain.

Some inspectors can be sticky on minor points. As per regulations, any habitable room (other than a bathroom) should have a minimum ceiling height of 2 400mm. Some inspectors have been strict on this, requiring the owner to raise the roof in the case of non-compliance.

For a second dwelling to be built on a property in town, you usually need permission from the neighbours, who must see and sign the plan as well as a departure form, which includes an electrification document. In addition, the owner has to supply a copy of the title deed for plan submission as no plan can be approved if anything is contrary to the deed conditions.

The property deed will stipulate the building lines and boundaries and may state that only, say, 60% of the property can be built on. You can have these restrictive conditions removed by court order/application but this must be advertised in a local paper for a period. To avoid heavy penalties and insurance problems, an architect must check the deed and ensure there are no restrictive conditions.