A property group and two buyers who bought into a holiday home development on the banks of iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s Mgoboseleni Lake have been ordered off the site by a high court judge.

They continued building at the Secret Lakes project despite being told to stop the development – and now have until December 31 to get off the land.

They must also rehabilitate the site, Judge Dhaya Pillay ordered in a landmark decision on Friday in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

Her judgment was in favour of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and the KZN MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs against Feasey Property Group (Pty), Matayo Trading 137 (Pty) Ltd, Vusisizwe Technical Operations (Pty) Ltd, Geoffrey Clifford Little (representing Feasey and the other companies) and two buyers, Don Chandler and Johan Viljoen.

The judgment confirmed that the World Heritage Site and National Park manager had authority and jurisdiction in buffer zones around parks, iSimangaliso Wetland Park said. The judgment was a victory for the environment, Andrew Zaloumis, iSimangaliso’s chief executive, said.

A buffer zone is outside a proclaimed boundary of a park, but is an additional layer of protection that seeks to protect important aspects of biodiversity.

iSimangaliso was the first World Heritage Site to establish a buffer zone soon after it was listed by Unesco in 1999.

“This protection action is a necessary step by iSimangaliso in the fulfilment of its, and South Africa’s, commitments to Unesco and to the people of South Africa to protect this global jewel,” Zaloumis said.

Feasey Property Group had planned to built 512 holiday homes on the banks of the Mgoboseleni Lake which also overlooks pristine wilderness.

Both are integral parts of the world heritage property, with the Mgoboseleni Estuary considered extremely important as a nursery area for estuarine-dependent marine species. Crocodiles and hippos also breed there, while the park also includes about 467 threatened species.

iSimangaliso officials had been communicating with Feasey Property Group and Little since 2010 when he proposed the development.

He was advised that he had to secure the necessary permissions, which included an environmental impact assessment, “but disregarded iSimangaliso’s inputs and proceeded to sell sites to the public”, an iSimangaliso statement recalled.

Then, in later 2014, without any permissions, two of his buyers – Chandler and Viljoen – began construction.

Little and the buyers received notices asking them to stop the development, but ignored the request, and iSimangaliso had no option but to go to the court for assistance in December 2014.

Interim orders were issued and reconfirmed in March and December last year, and March this year, ordering that no further selling or development take place.

The matter was finalised at the beginning of this month, when the judge made her ruling and ordered the developers to pay the costs of iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority.

Zaloumis said that unauthorised developments in and near the park placed the whole park and its world heritage status at risk.

“The action of one illegal developer to the environment is incalculable. It is the thin edge of the wedge. The cumulative impact compromises and places the world heritage site listing at risk.”

The court action was not aimed at disenfranchising people who had historical and legitimate rights, but to remove those who attempted to appropriate rights “which are not theirs and have not been taken up legally”.