CAPE TOWN - Delays in the construction of the Chapman's Peak toll plaza could cost the Western Cape provincial government as much as R141m, the Cape High Court heard yesterday.

The Hout Bay Residents Association and the Habitat Council were seeking an interdict to halt the construction of the controversial R53m toll plaza because the province did not get approval to go ahead with the construction from the appropriate authority, rendering its construction unlawful.

Sean Rosenberg, representing the Western Cape provincial government, said the delays could be disastrous, and a cancelation of the deal to construct the toll plaza would have enormous financial repercussions.

Mr Rosenberg said also the delays could "tempt" construction company Murray and Roberts, a senior partner in concessionaire Entilini, to cancel the deal. The delays would significantly "prejudice" the province, he said.

"Staggering the construction process would . increase costs. It is akin to building the cash registers before the shop," Mr Rosenberg said.

"If construction is held up any longer, the overall project cost of R53m will no longer be attainable, due to ordinary inflationary pressures", he said.

In the meantime, the province would remain liable to pay costs associated with the temporary tolling facilities and the costs of administering a day-pass system, Mr Rosenberg said.

Earlier this year, civic groups and environmentalists objected to plans to build a two-storey luxury office block on Chapman's Peak drive to accommodate the staff of Entilini, the private company that runs the toll road.

They said the building would degrade the natural scenic beauty of the drive.

Speaking on behalf of the Hout Bay Residents Association and the Habitat Council, Jeremy Muller said the losses that the province estimated it would incur from the delays were "somewhat inflated" and were "a small price to pay" in comparison with going ahead with the construction of an unlawful structure.

"The prejudice the province will suffer is limited to financial prejudice . the reference by the province to the cancellation of the contract and millions that this would cost the taxpayer is a little more than scaremongering," Mr Muller said.

Judgment in the case has been reserved.

phakathib@bdfm.co.za