It was not long after the first plots were sold, that that the first controversy over the use of the beach erupted. Plots had been laid out where the bathing boxes are today and further along the beach proposed roads were set out on the plan for later development. One of Fish Hoek’s well known residents, “Bull” Pritchard, who had built his house, “Drano”, on the Catwalk in 1919, first drew attention to the situation. He was a surveyor in the Government Survey Department and on looking at the plans realised that houses on the sea side of the railway would ruin the beach.
The administrators of the de Villiers Estate insisted that this area was above the high water mark and was therefore part of the farm. The original survey had been done before the 1818 grant of land to Andries Bruijns and the eastern limit of the farm was set down as the seacoast. The Government Surveyor at the time had taken this as a straight line between two pegs, one at the Fish Hoek end of the beach and the other one at the Clovelly end. Over the years attempts to stop the sand encroaching on the railway line and variations in the course of the Silvermine River, had altered the shoreline and so the legitimacy of the plots hinged on exactly where the high water mark had been in 1818.
The local residents were very concerned and to canvas for support a public meeting, chaired by W. H. Wardley, Chairman of the Fish Hoek Ratepayers Association, was held in the Metropolitan Hall on Greenmarket Square, Cape Town, on 7 November 1919. A fund was opened to provide money for any legal proceedings but it was not until three years later, on 10 October 1922, that the case came to court. It was brought to the attention of the public by a notice that appeared in the Cape Times.
“We, the Ratepayers of Fish Hoek, hereby assure our Local Area Board that they will have our wholehearted support in all steps they take to assist the Surveyor-General in his forthcoming case regarding our Foreshore, and we earnestly trust that he will be successful, as the grave public interests involved are vital to our future welfare.”
It was submitted that the shore line had changed over the years, and that the tide had at one time washed over the area where the railway line was built, so that the land on which the plots were laid out had been below the high water mark in 1818. On 19 December 1922 judgement was given in favour of the de Villiers Estate but an appeal was lodged and on I I April 1923 the case went to the Appellate Division in Bloemfontein, where a panel of judges, in a fifty page judgement, upheld the decision of the lower court.
The Government had been watching the judgement with interest in case it led to other cases of disputed coastline, and were anxious to have it settled as soon as possible. However, the matter dragged on and it was not until December 1926 that an agreement was made between the Fish Hoek Local Board, the Ratepayers of Fish Hoek, the Administrator of the Cape Province, the Government of the Union of South Africa and the de Villiers Estate. It was arranged that on payment of £3 000 the Fish Hoek Local Board could become the owner of the disputed plots. Even then the matter was not settled as the Local Board could not raise a loan unless they held the title to the land and the de Villiers Estate could not part with the title until they had the money. It was a deadlock!
To finalise the matter the House of Assembly adopted a resolution on 20 June 1927, which was then passed by the Senate, concerning “The sanctioning of certain arrangements between the Fish Hoek Village Management Board and the Executors in the Estate of the late Mrs Hester Sophia de Villiers.” This resolution enabled the Village Management Board to raise a loan which was to be paid back over thirty years, finally being settled in the late 1950’s. The disputed land was returned to the Government whichranted it to the Village Management Board in exchange for £3000 to paid to the executors of the de Villiers Estate. A Supreme Court order was issued and the transactions took place simultaneously on 7 March 1928 subject to “the condition that the land shall only be used for public purposes and shall not be capable of being sold, and to such further conditions as the Government may approve.” It took nine years, but the residents of Fish Hoek had saved the beach.
Another controversy arose over the building of a new sea wall. By the early 1970’s the palisade of railway sleepers, put in to try and control the sand being blown on the railway line, was in a bad state. Having been there for over forty years, the wood was decaying and the high tides were washing through and undermining the path in front of the bathing boxes. In 1976 the railway authorities declared that the first subway, under the line at the back of the beach, was unsafe and unless the Fish Hoek Municipality would agree to pay half the cost of reconstruction it would have to be bricked up.
The Council decided that the subway had to be kept open so plans were drawn up to rebuild the subway and extend the Catwalk, which at that time started at the subway, to the front of the restaurant and put steps down to the beach. The second stage would be the replacing of the old railway sleepers with a new sea wall. Also included were plans fora new caravan park, which until then had been behind the Lifesaving Clubhouse, and a clubhouse for the Beach Sailing Club. When the plans were published this became the hot topic of discussion in the town and a strong anti-wall lobby soon appeared. It was said that extending the Catwalk would encourage the sea to swirl around in the corner and make bathing unsafe.
It was also suggested that the sand would all wash away from the area leaving only exposed rock, or alternatively that the sand would pile up and cover the walkway.
The subway, path and steps in front of the restaurant were completed by the end of 1976 but on 19 February 1977 a high tide flooded the new subway and exposed rubble which had been buried instead of being removed after construction. A new pump had to be purchased and the rubble removed. Older residents pointed out that perhaps the builders of the old wooden Pavilion had had the right idea when they built it on stilts so that high tides could wash underneath it.
Meetings of the Residents Association at this time were very argumentative. The second stage of the development had been designed by the Fish Hoek Town Engineer specifically for the local conditions and was to be built using municipal labour, an idea which many thought to be impossible. An oceanographer was asked to speak on the subject and a group of engineers was asked to prepare a report on what many thought would be a colossal mistake. At a meeting in December 1979 a motion of no confidence in the Fish Hoek Town Council was proposed by the anti-wall lobby which was defeated by 42 votes to 36. Someone pointed out that as the Council had been re-elected unopposed at the last election it might prove difficult to replace them should they be forced to resign en bloc! Despite all this the Council expressed confidence in the Town Engineer and the wall was built, being completed in 1982 at a very reasonable cost of R38 869. Many visitors do not even realise that it is there. The only outward sign is a small brick wall on the sea side of the path at the back of the beach but under the sand below that wall is a v shaped trench filled with interlocking concrete blocks. It fills with sand but in some way prevents the sand from building up and covering the pathway.
In comparison to the sea wall controversy the building of Seaside Village only caused minor dissatisfaction. Some residents were not happy that because the land on the foreshore could not be sold, the houses could be bought but the land had to be leased from the Council. Others felt that as people walking their dogs in the sand dunes in the area had been mugged it was perhaps a good idea. It was also said that it was a very ugly development and for some time after completion was referred to as “Noddy Town”. Initially permission was given by the Administrator of the Cape for the land to be leased for ten years for the construction of what was intended to be a holiday village. At the end of that period an application to the Deeds Office for renewal of the leases for a period of 25 years was refused on the grounds that the land should not have been built on in the first place. Without a valid lease on the land, transfer could not be taken, so no sales could be completed and as yet this has not been sorted out
A proposal to fence off the beach and charge for admission enraged most residents. As this could not be allowed, being in conflict with the stipulation in the 1818 grant to Andries Bruijns that the beach should remain open to the public, it was proposed to levy a parking fee instead. It was pointed out that that the beach would still be open to the public in that the payment is for parking a car and pedestrians do not pay. The residents demanded that as they paid municipal rates which were used for the upkeep of the beach they should be given free passes. This was one they could not win as it would have been impossible to ensure that those giving local addresses really were local residents, but a season ticket was introduced. It was also stipulated that all parking fees had to kept in a separate account and used for the upkeep and improvement of the parking area. Unfortunately when the Fish Hoek Municipality was absorbed into a larger area parking fees went into the big municipal pot.
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