story and pictures andrea abbott
Development is putting our open spaces and green lungs under immense pressure. If we’re to protect them, the only way forward is to establish a Special Rating Area (SRA),” says George Victor, chairman of Hillcrest Conservancy and member of the Hillcrest Park Environmental Precinct (HPEP) steering committee.
An SRA is a Council approved area where property owners pay a modest supplementary rate that’s used to maintain public spaces over and above the usual municipal services. “The initiative to set up HPEP began with the need to combat crime,” says George. “Shaun Lyle, chair of Hillcrest Park Neighbourhood Watch came to realise that security and the natural environment are linked. The focus then widened to include our open spaces.” He explains that properties infested with invasive alien plants like Bugweed and Lantana attract vandals because unkempt land signals a disorderly area where little vigilance is exercised.
This reality was one of the reasons the Conservancy cleared the railway line. »
“The section from Stonewall Road bridge to Inanda Road bridge is now part of D’Moss and forms one boundary of the HPEP,” says George. It’s a boundary cyclists and walkers regularly use, their presence a deterrent to people with criminal intent. Inanda Road as far as Kirtlington Estate forms another of the precinct’s boundaries, as do Langford Estate and the border with Gillitts.
Aside from crime taking a knock, restoring and conserving natural areas contributes to water security, healthy biodiversity and a high quality of life. This package of good reasons is behind the rehabilitation of a patch of municipal-owned land in Springside Road. “We call it Neglected Park,” says George. “We’ve already removed mature gum trees and are working to restore the park to the pristine grassland it once was.”
Another important open space within HPEP is Hillcrest Scouts’ four acre property. Flanking Springside, it effectively expands the reserve thus providing refuge for the wildlife within this booming residential area. Near Kirtlington, a large property belonging to the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) is also on the HPEP radar. “We’re negotiating with SALGA,” says George. “Our aim is to rehabilitate the land and develop it into a training area and a public park.” Backing on to the SALGA site is the newly-formed Belvedere Conservancy where private landowners are restoring ecosystems. This will contribute considerably to the overall healthy environment envisaged for HPEP. The emphasis on ecological health is set to gain traction once the SRA is registered. “We’ll have the teeth to oblige landowners to clear up alien plant infestations,” George says.
But HPEP won’t be only inward-looking. As George points out, an isolated, boomed-off area would be counter-productive. “Our mandate will include outreach programmes to outlying, less fortunate communities to help people become self-sufficient through market gardening and other initiatives. If we’re to make a lasting difference, we have to help stamp out hunger and poverty.”
That helping hand approach includes educating people to care for nature. Already, and in conjunction with Hillcrest Rotary, groups from those outlying communities attend full day environmental awareness courses in Springside Reserve several times a year.
Indications are that many residents are in support of the SRA. “We need a majority buy-in,” says George. “And it seems we’ll get that.” Once registered, the HPEP will appoint a paid manager to oversee daily operations.
“We’re ready to start pushing it,” says George. “And we appeal for people to join the committee.”
It’s an initiative deserving of full support especially as SRAs are proven to boost property values. Another bonus is the building of a real community and a clean, green, safe future.
For more info contact:
Shaun Lyle 082 553 7399
George Victor 073 901 3902