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Monday Sep 03, 2012

'City deliberately neglecting Woodstock'

The City of Cape Town and the SA National NGO Coalition are at loggerheads over the so-called gentrification of Woodstock, with the city describing as "pure fantasy and utter rubbish" suggestions that they are purposely neglecting the area so houses will be sold cheaply, rebuilt and resold for top dollar.

Many residential property owners in Woodstock find themselves "trapped" by businesses or factories.

The accusations were levelled this week during a community meeting to highlight the issue of lower-income areas being transformed through the sale and renovation of properties. In Woodstock the past decade has seen a rising number of higher-income homes and businesses being built, changing what was a workingclass neighbourhood.

In the six years between 2004 and 2010 the average price of a house in the area jumped dramatically, from R390 000 to R720 000.

Western Cape Sangoco programme manager Jacky Thomas accused the city of allowing lower Woodstock to fall into a state of decay in order to lower property values, opening the way for increased gentrification.

"Over the past decade, upper Woodstock has been taken over by new, more expensive housing and businesses. But lower Woodstock has been left to rot in an attempt to force residents to sell their properties. While they may be rewarded financially, our history is being sold off too," Thomas charged.

"Even the streets marked as heritage sites have not been safe from gentrification. The city is pushing for higher income housing and business in an attempt to expand the CBD and create a 'prettier and richer' suburb."

Refurbished homes in Woodstock.

Brett Herron, ward councillor for the Woodstock area, acknowledged there was tremendous development pressure on the area, but said the location and character of Woodstock had seen it become "increasingly desirable".

The area was also attracting attention and interest from property developers and businesses in the creative sector.

Herron said he had submitted a motion to the sub-council a few months ago calling on the city's spatial planning and urban design department to update the Woodstock development framework with a new local area development plan. The purpose was to ensure that development took place "in a manner that adds value to the community", and protected the residential component.

The department was working on that request.

During this week's meeting Thomas also claimed the city had purposely failed to address dilapidated and abandoned properties in a way that contributed positively to the community.

Herron suggested that if Sangoco was concerned about specific buildings in Woodstock, provisions in the Problem Building By- Law allowed city authorities to take action against owners who neglected their properties, in the event of a complaint being laid.

Howard Smith, Woodstock Community Police Forum chairman, confirmed that there was an increase in crime in the area.

"The current direction of Woodstock is very scary. We have seen a significant increase in drugs and prostitution over the past five years, and it looks as if these problems will continue to grow if they are not addressed soon," he said.

Thomas also accused the city of allowing businesses to take advantage of the removal of height restrictions there, which had pushed up the number of high-rise properties.

"You now see skyscrapers sandwiching residential properties in a heritage site, which should be illegal.

"Not even streets marked as national heritage sites are safe. Businesses mean more noise and traffic, which has already taken its toll on our roads," she said, adding that lower Woodstock was being transformed from a residential area into "a business park".

Local resident Alexander Jax, 54, said he had lived in Woodstock all his life, but was now considering a move.

"I love Woodstock, but I'm not sure if it's a place you can raise children anymore.

"I have a young son who is essentially growing up in a business park. There isn't even space to play soccer or rugby," he said, adding that he wanted his children to grow up somewhere where they could play outside.

"I don't want them surrounded by buildings that are falling apart."

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

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