The much-anticipated extension of the famous Hermanus Cliff Path at Poole’s Bay has suffered a blow after the Overstrand Municipality stated that it does not have the authority to implement a right of way servitude across private property.

An artist’s impression of what the Cliff Path may look like at Poole’s Bay. The current proposal is for a path built from concrete with a rough aggregate to encourage staining and seaweed / mussel shell growth. There would be no materials that could be damaged in high storm seas.

This follows several attempts by the Cliff Path Action Group (CPAG) over the last three years to have the 12-kilometre-long Cliff Path, which runs from the New Harbour to Grotto Beach, connected at Poole’s Bay. At the moment the pathway comes to an abrupt end at Sea Road on the western side forcing walkers to turn away from the sea to continue walking along Main Road until the path again resumes at Mickey Way near Mollergren Park Retirement Village on the eastern side.

For many years, the coastal walk between Sea Road and Mickey Way has been off limits to walkers, with parts of the way blocked by fences and signs stating that it was private property.

The announcement by the municipality comes after the subdivision of Erf 12257 Sea Road was approved by the municipality. This erf, locally known as ‘Jooste’s Big Hole’ made headlines after disgraced former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste halted construction on what was set to be a palatial home shortly after he resigned from the company. All that was left on the seafront erf was a large hole, rumoured to have been intended for either basement parking or a swimming pool.

According to CPAG, the Integrated Coastal Management Act makes provision for the implementation of a servitude by the municipality to allow the public free access to the ocean with each rezoning, subdivision or development approval of land, adjacent to coastal public property (such as the 13 properties at Poole’s Bay). With Erf 12257 being the western access point to this part of the coastline, the subdivision application held the key to unlocking this area to the public and connecting the Cliff Path.

But, said the municipality, the Act does not provide them with the authority to implement the servitude. Furthermore, there is no municipal by-law on implementing a servitude as required in terms of the Act.

In a letter to CPAG, Stephen Müller, Director of Infrastructure and Planning, said the access servitude to the remainder of the erf will be demarcated in a similar manner to that of the demarcation of public open spaces and will not prohibit pedestrians. “Safe and easy access to the coastline is achieved from the eastern side of Poole’s Bay and therefore it is not required in terms of this land to provide additional access,” states the letter.

But according to Jobré Stassen of CPAG, the current servitude only allows for vehicle access to the erf and does not allow for unrestricted access to the coastal pathway. “When you now want to walk along the coast from this erf to Mollergren Park, as is your right, you must traverse very dangerous areas over and around large rocks, where you can easily trip or be trapped between the rocks and the ocean at high tide. If the servitude were in place, we would be able to facilitate and assist with extending the Cliff Path in such a manner that it would be safe to walk there,” said Stassen.

Access to Poole’s Bay a priority

Stassen also said that they were especially taken aback by the refusal of the municipality to allow for the servitude, as the Western Cape Government released a draft report at the end of September 2018, following a year-long study and assessment of the issues surrounding access to the extensive Overberg coastline, from Rooiels to Cape Infanta. 

In this report, Poole’s Bay is highlighted as one of 10 sites in need of immediate resolution. The status of access to Poole’s Bay is recorded in the report as “nil”.

According to her, the western Cape Government has also indicated that the Overberg Coastal Access Audit and Pilot Study found that this stretch of coastline was identified as an area of conflict, where the public experienced limited or restricted access to the coast because of property boundaries of coastal erven extending to the high-water mark. 

According to Section 13 of the Integrated Coastal Management Act restricting access by the public to the coast is a criminal offence. Furthermore Section 18(9) of the act obliges municipalities to ensure that provision is made to secure public access to coastal public property in conditions of approval for rezoning, subdivision, or development of a land unit.

Müller said while Section 13 does make restriction a criminal offence, in this instance there is access from the eastern side. “The properties along this bit of coast are private property and the municipality has no mandate to implement a servitude. The rights of the property owners are enshrined in the constitution and we cannot act against that,” he said.

Stassen said they will be meeting with municipal officials to try and find a solution to this problem and, should the need arise, court action might be instituted to have the Cliff Path connected.

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