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Monday Jan 04, 2016

Athlone power station property development on the roll again

Calls for tenders are being finalised for the first phase of the multibillion-rand redevelopment of the Athlone Power Station site as a mixed-use hub of housing, shops and public facilities.

The Athlone Power Station site could be developed into a node to rival Century City and the Waterfront.

Work on the 36ha site is expected to continue for some years - boosting the construction and allied industries and creating a development node that could ultimately match developments such as Century City and the Waterfront in scale and impact.

The landmark site on the N2, midway between the city and the airport, is regarded as a key opportunity to alter the racially fragmented suburban landscape bequeathed by apartheid planning.

It is bounded by Langa, Pinelands and Athlone and abuts the extensive area of the Two Rivers Urban Park development plan, another lynchpin opportunity in the broader city vision of integrating alienated suburbs and creating housing opportunities closer to jobs.

Movement on the longawaited development on the power station site comes more than a decade after the coalfired generator ceased operating and the airing of preliminary proposals three years later, in 2006.

Safety considerations prompted the city to demolish the huge cooling towers on the site in August 2010.

But planning ground to a halt in 2014 when an initial 2012 contract was annulled by the Western Cape High Court at the city's request when it emerged in an investigation by Ernst & Young that the winning bidder, Aurecon, had had an unfair advantage in that it had played a key role in drawing up the feasibility report on the site some years earlier.

There is little doubt the gist of the feasibility study by Aurecon and change management consultancy ODA, conducted between 2008 and 2010, is likely to remain the core vision for the site.

That study foresaw "a mixed-use urban district containing a vibrant local community with all necessary facilities, but also a place of work, learning and recreation which draws people from further afield".

The preferred development scenario at that time - a mix of residential, commercial, retail and public (entertainment, cultural or educational) uses - envisaged a total development cost of about R5.2 billion (R4.2bn commercial and R1bn residential), and an infrastructure cost of some R275 million.

A key feature of the visioning exercise was the retention of some buildings - such as the turbine hall - as facilities to serve cultural or educational functions, and attract visitors and shoppers.

When it was announced six months ago that a team headed by the World Bank would help the city craft a development strategy for the site - the first R2.3m portion of a three-year budgetary allocation was made in June to enable the city to issue new calls for tenders - it was confirmed that the vision was for a mixed-use development encompassing residential units, commercial and retail space, and public facilities.

Mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning Johan van der Merwe told Weekend Argus this week that the call for tenders for urban planning, engineering and other technical services in the predevelopment phase of the project was expected to be announced early this year.

A specialist team sponsored by the National Treasury "has been appointed and will be working in conjunction with the technical planning team to assist the city in producing a development strategy for the site".

He said: "This development strategy will inform how the city engages with developers and the type of land release that takes place. It is fair to assume some of the land will be developed by private developers, but the land ownership system has not been defined yet."

A further contract for the provision of professional services relating to the decommissioning of the power station was being "developed" by the electricity services department.

The old coal-fired power station on the site was opened in 1962 and operated as a 180MW facility until 1985. It was held on standby between 1986 and 1994 and then put back into full service until 2003, when operations were found to be uneconomic and terminated.

The search for new uses for the site began in 2004, when it became clear the facility would not be ideal for incorporation in the city's longer-term gaspower project. The planners' convictions a decade ago that, used differently, the site could serve socio- economic objectives remain resonant today in an urban setting dominated by anxieties about urban sprawl and the social and other costs of persistent inequality.

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

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