City of Joburg to probe residential development built over petrol pipeline

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The City of Joburg is expected to launch an investigation into the construction of a residential development built over a petrol pipeline, which officials and residents have described as a catastrophe waiting to happen.

The investigation into Balwin Properties relates to the Alinta complex in Glenvista, which is home to 114 units, ranging from villas, duplexes and townhouses.

On the outside, the complex looks like a picture-perfect home. On the inside, however, residents fear for their lives, living in what they say is a disaster waiting to happen.

There is a dangerous underground petrol pipeline that runs underneath the complex as well as a series of structural failures which have caused flooding, sinkholes and property damage.

Residents also claim that shoddy materials were used and that their lives were at risk. The situation has left Balwin - one of South Africa's biggest sectional title developers - with remedial construction work amounting to millions of rand. A catastrophe the City won't be able to deal with

DA ward councillor Graham de Kock, who is the chairperson of the Development Planning Committee of the City of Joburg, has told News24 that he is planning to investigate Alinta once a preliminary probe is conducted and is scheduled to speak to stakeholders this week.

De Kock says his main concern is the 6.3m Transnet petrol pipe underneath the complex, which pumps thousands of litres of fuel every day. One small puncture could mean catastrophe and evacuation for Alinta and surrounding residents within a 5km radius.

"The pipeline is a major issue for me… if somebody pokes a hole in that thing, we will have a catastrophe that the City won't be able to deal with," de Kock said.

He added: "If Balwin is guilty of an offence, they should be taken to the cleaners. The assumption seems to be that Balwin has not followed the letter of the law and has done something which is positively illegal and should be held to account."

Glenvista ward councillor, Sarah Wissler, also told News24 that the pipeline was a major public safety risk. If the pipe is pierced, there would be a "fountain of petrol in the air", she said.

"I've been working with Transnet with regard to that pipeline, making sure the integrity is protected and that nothing comes anywhere near it. I don't understand how on earth Alinta got built right on top of it. It runs right through the middle of the complex and that should never have happened - not on a servitude."

However, Raaziq Ismail, head of legal for Balwin, said there was no proof of wrongdoing.

"I don't even know what to comment on that statement except to say that it's speculation and they must come forward and provide proof."

A microcosm of natural disasters

Another aspect of the proposed probe is a stormwater pipe that was built using PVC plastic - not concrete. The pipe eroded and filled with garbage not long after, causing the floods.

About three floods have hit Alinta, primarily because the stormwater pipe overflowed. The most recent flood took place over Easter this year.

In 2016, the force of the flood took down boundary walls at the complex and destroyed property.

In 2017, a burst Rand Water pipe saw about 500 000l of water flow into the complex, damaging structures in its way.

As a result, sinkholes formed frighteningly close to residents' homes.

Calvern Hugo, chairperson of Alinta Body Corporate, said remedial action is needed before lives are lost.

"The alarming fact is that these sinkholes were formed next to building structures where families were asleep, this is nothing short of a miracle, in that, thus far we haven't encountered any human fatalities yet, as this is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode."

Francois Bain, a consulting engineer for Balwin from Kantey and Templer, said the problem with the piping was not because it was PVC but because of another construction defect in the bedding material, adding that PVC piping is often used often in the construction of stormwater drainage systems.

"Ultimately, even if you had a concrete pipe, eventually you would get damage from boulders."

Remedial action

After the second flood over Easter this year, residents called on Balwin to fix the situation but became frustrated with their lack of response. They pooled their own money together to build a drainage system, costing millions of rand.

Balwin has agreed to reimburse residents to the tune of R1.8m and in May, Balwin presented the draft payment agreement to Alinta.

According to Hugo, one condition in the draft agreement is that residents must remove all complaints about Alinta on social media and will not be allowed to post anything regarding the matter thereafter.

Balwin has also embarked on costly remedial construction which includes designing a new plan for the stormwater system. They are currently waiting for approval from the municipality to start construction.

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