The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism provided the Committee with its response to the public submissions on the National Environment Management: Protected Areas Amendment Bill. Most of the comments from the public and from SANParks proposed amendments to Clause 4, Clause 5 and Clause 6 of the Bill. The Department then went through its proposed amendments stemming from the submissions.
Clause 4 of the Bill dealt with flights over special nature reserves, national parks and heritage sights. The public wanted the section to be amended so that national parks, nature reserves and heritage sights could be subject to Environmental Impact Assessments. The Department amended the section to say that written permission from the management authority had to be obtained before flying over the areas.
Clause 5 of the Bill was amended because there was no section in the Bill that provided for the tax exemption, winding up or dissolution of national parks. The public was concerned that South African National Parks could be abolished without Parliament’s consideration of the socio-economic impact of this.
Clause 6 was amended so that the Minister could have the power to assign the management of world heritage sites and protected areas.
Members thought there had to be more discussion on the inclusion of Environmental Impact Assessments in Clause 4 so that the impact of flights over national parks could be assessed. The Department said that the impact on national parks was taken into account when the Minister approved flight corridors. The Committee was worried that the Department relied too much on the Minister’s benevolence and the assumption that he would do a good job of approving flight plans. The Committee also discussed the licensing of airstrips as well as search and rescue services. Members stated that Clause 5 needed to be tightened up and that consensus of the whole House was needed on the issue.
Mr Ishaam Abader, Deputy Director General: Corporate Affairs in the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), discussed the Department’s response to the comments made by the public (see document). Comments on the Bill came from the City of Cape Town, Andrew Wardle, Animal Rights Africa, Cape Nature and South African National Parks (SANParks).
The Department went through the amendments it proposed as a result of the public hearing. The long title was amended to say “Environmental” instead of “Environment”. Major amendments were amendments to Clause 4, Clause 5 and Clause 6. Clause 4 was amended, as controlling flights over special nature reserves, national parks or heritage sites were of utmost importance if one wanted to protect wildlife and the environment. Provision was made that contravention of this section was an offence. Clause 5 amended Section 54, as there was no enabling section that provided for the tax exemption, winding up or dissolution of SANParks. Clause 6 amended Section 55 because the present Act had no empowering section providing for SANParks to manage all existing national parks. Provision was made for the Minister to assign the management of world heritage sites and protected areas.
Mr G Morgan (DA) stated that he was happy with most of the amendments. However, he thought there had to be more discussion on Clause 4, which spoke about flying over national parks. At the moment, there were small Raptor aircrafts flying over South African National Parks (SANParks). He asked the Department to comment on the requirement for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), as he thought it was an important issue. He noted that some submissions said that there should be EIAs for every national park to assess the impact that planes made on the parks when they flew over it. He also understood the Civil Aviation Authority was upset about the 2500 feet mark at which planes could fly, as flight corridors would be below this mark anyway. He wondered if they were referring to the types of planes that would take off at one side of the park and fly to the other side of the park.
Mr Abader answered that the impact on national parks had been taken into account when the Minister had approved flight corridors. He stated that it was necessary to have EIAs, as the Minister considered the parks’ vulnerability when approval for flight corridors was given.
Dr Geoff Cowan, Deputy Director: DEAT, stated that the 2500 feet restriction pertained to all types of aircrafts. However, in Clause 4, it stated that the height restriction did not apply to emergencies and instructions of the managing authority.
Mr Morgan noted that the Department’s response to the question on EIAs implied that the Department and the Committee had to rely on the Minister’s benevolence. The Department was assuming that the Minister was going to do a good job of approving flight plans. He did not see why there could not be EIAs for each park. The point was that there were many national parks that were pressurised into becoming commercialised. Therefore, people did not know if there would be tourists being flown across national parks. He would have preferred it if EIAs were instituted.
Mr Cowan thought that some of the wording in the legislation was a little incorrect. He said that the Department was trying to find corridors in which flight plans could be found.
Ms J Chalmers (ANC) asked who was responsible for licensing South African airstrips. She wondered if it was done for a period of time or in perpetuity. She also wanted to know if an analysis was done of the safety of the airstrips, as some of them were in a bad condition.
Mr Abader replied that he could not adequately address the question at that point; however, the Civil Aviation Act considered licencing issues.
The Chairperson commented that one hoped for once-off EIAs for SANParks so that people could know how much the environment could withstand. He asked the Department to comment on search and rescue services as well as special rules areas.
Mr Cowan answered that the managing authorities and the Civil Aviation Authority dealt with search and rescue services.
Mr D Maluleke (ANC) referred to the “winding up” of SANParks in Clause 5. He stated that that situation had to be tightened up and the Department had to make sure that there was consensus in the National Assembly.
Mr Abader noted that the consensus of the full House was needed for Clause 5.
The Chairperson added that there were specific comments made by the public about Clause 4 and strengthening punishment for criminal offences and damage to national parks. He asked the Department to comment on the matter.
Mr Cowen replied that he did not have an answer for the Committee at that point. However, the Department and the Committee could discuss the issue the following week.
Mr Morgan addressed an amendment to Section 48(3) of the Act that was proposed by SANParks. The amendment read: “The Minister, after consultation with the relevant management authority and the Cabinet member responsible for mineral and energy affairs, may, in relation to the activities contemplated in subsection (2), [as well as in relation to the mining activities conducted in areas contemplated in that subsection which were declared a such after the commencement of this section– this wording to be deleted] prescribe conditions under which those activities may continue in order to reduce or eliminate the impact of those activities on the environment or for the environmental protection of the area concerned.”. He asked if SANParks were referring to current mining activity.
Mr Abader replied that he was not sure what SANParks were referring to in terms of activities or if they were referring to existing activities. He stated that this type of amendment would require a much more extensive consultation with SANParks.
Mr Morgan asked if the Department was proposing any change to section 48(3).
Mr Abader answered that they were not proposing any changes at that point.
The Chairperson thanked the Department for a comprehensive engagement and informed them that the Committee and the Department would interact again the following week.
The meeting was adjourned.
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