Let's cut a deal: state lab's plan to end Cape land dispute
Government department stands in way of Zille's huge pet project, but says it will move if it has somewhere else to go
A little-known government department has proposed a land swap to help resolve a dispute holding up a multibillion-rand property development that is one of Western Cape premier Helen Zille’s flagship projects.
The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) confirmed this week that it owns a 3ha portion of prime real estate in the middle of an 11ha development site between the V&A Waterfront and Cape Town Stadium.
The Western Cape government believed it owned erf 1955, which is part of the Somerset Hospital precinct that was due to be rezoned this week in preparation for a long-awaited housing, retail and office park.
On Friday, the NHLS said it was awaiting feedback from the province regarding a proposed alternative site for its laboratory, which would allow the development to go ahead.“Erf 1955 remains the property of the NHLS until the Western Cape provincial government can provide the NHLS with a viable alternative as originally discussed with them,” said spokesperson Tebogo Seale.
“The NHLS has contacted the Western Cape department of public works to continue with the discussions, and we are still awaiting their feedback.”
The provincial government did not respond to queries.
Meanwhile, the deeds office and Hogan Lovells, the legal firm involved in the land transfer to NHLS, said was nothing irregular about the transfer.
Hogan Lovells spokesperson Jabulile Nhlapo said the NHLS was duty-bound to affect the transfer in terms of the NHLS Act, which obliged the service to take ownership of property housing state laboratories.
“In other words, since inception of the act in 2002, NHLS has always had ownership of the property – all that was needed was to formalise the process at the deeds registry,” Nhlapo said.
“Our instruction was to attend to this. The transfer was not secret or clandestine.”The deeds office confirmed it had investigated and found nothing improper about the transfer: “[It] is not an uncommon occurrence with state funded/controlled institutions. As such there was in our opinion no secret or improper conduct in the formal registration of this property as our requirements for registration thereof were complied with.”
The NHLS said the transfer was a long-standing matter that had been detailed in annual reports dating back to 2013. But it remained unclear why it was leasing the site if it was the legal owner.
The Western Cape government was under the impression it had taken transfer of the property from the City of Cape Town in 2016. A further complicating factor is the absence of title deeds.
Confusion over land ownership prompted the province to withdraw its application to seek business zoning in preparation for redevelopment.