01 February 2005

KwaZulu Natal rethinking 4x4 ban on beaches

There is a ray of light for 4x4 owners. A scientific research model presented to KwaZulu-Natal authorities on Monday indicated that almost 20 percent of the province's beaches could tolerate the vehicles without harm to the environment.

The model was drawn up by the Oceanographic Research Institute in consultation with other interested parties.

It was put to eight national MPs who visited Durban to assess the 4x4 ban on local beaches.

Representatives from the government, tourism, environmental and special interest groups used the opportunity to strongly drive the proposed "decision support model" drawn up by the scientists.

The scientific model identifies almost 20 percent of KZN coastline that might be available for 4x4 access without "causing undue environmental damage". It also suggests strict control of the vehicles in more sensitive areas, while some parts of the coast should be "no-go" areas.

KwaZulu-Natal's minister for arts, culture and tourism, Narend Singh, said the presentation was intended to "help the committee apply their minds to issues surrounding the 4x4 ban", before they submitted their decision to national Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Martinus Van Schalkwyk.

According to Singh's department, legislation was published and amendments were promulgated in 2001 to the extent that no vehicles were allowed in South Africa's coastal zones.

However, vehicles were allowed in recreational areas designated by the director-general. But amendments circulated in 2004 proposed the removal of these designated areas, which had largely been identified in KZN.

Singh said: "We are fully conscious of environmental degradation and management and fully support the fact that we should not allow 4x4s on our beaches willy nilly.

"But, having said that, we are also aware of sustainable tourism... We have a number of areas in KZN where the environment is not sensitive to 4x4s and the beaches could be used to uplift our people."

Prof Rudy van der Elst, director of the Oceanographic Research Institute, who developed the model, said it identified environmentally sensitive areas as well as those places where vehicles could be used on the beach with little negative impact.

The methodology used a coastal breakdown that excluded all environmentally sensitive areas from the coastal map. What was left was potential recreational-use areas.

The second stage of the model would consider social, economic or cultural factors that could override the scientific stage. Van der Elst also said the model could be applied in other coastal provinces.

Maxwell Moss, acting chairperson of the national committee, said it seemed the model had been accepted by his members, but he could not commit himself. He said the information gathered would have to be considered at a national level.

"We will only be able to decide once we have returned to parliament," he said.

Singh said only Durban stakeholders had been invited to the meeting because the national committee had indicated it would assess only Durban beaches.


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