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Wednesday Dec 05, 2012

Durban eyes municipal golf courses for property developments

Prime land in Durban is being eyed by city manager S'bu Sithole for billions of rand worth of mixed use development, including upmarket residential areas, office parks and retail complexes.

Royal Durban golf course.

The strategic sites he is looking at to unlock include several golf courses situated on municipal property, some in close proximity to one another.

The Papwa Sewgolum golf course in Reservoir Hills, Windsor Park in Masabalala Yengwa (NMR) Avenue, Royal Durban situated within Greyville racecourse and Beachwood are some of the sites the city manager is looking at.

Some are run by private companies, while others have longstanding leases with the city and pay a nominal amount in rates.

"The question is: should we be waiting for the leases to end or should we engage with stakeholders on how these spaces can be better utilised for the interest of Durban as a whole," he said in an exclusive interview with The Mercury this week.

The growth of the city's rates base was not keeping pace with its needs and, if sites were freed up, it could inject billions into the city's coffers.

Beachwood golf course.

"We need to embark on a new strategy to grow our economy by between six to eight percent on an annual basis. We will need to look at our strategic land assets like the golf courses which have long-term leases (with the municipality), and these leases will at some point expire," he said.

Sithole said Durban Country Club was an icon that needed to be maintained, but other golf courses that were within a 20km radius of the CDB could be "unlocked for better development". "Do we need Beachwood?" he asked.

"We must engage all stakeholders and consider the lease agreements. We need not to be legalistic about the matter, but we must look at what is best for Durban."

Sithole said the combined value of the golf course sites was billions which was not coming to the city in any form of revenue.

"There is nothing in [the] law preventing us from taking back the land," he said. However, the city was prepared to look at proposals that could accommodate existing interests."

Presenting the city's long-term development plans, Sithole said apart from golf courses, another site the city was looking at developing was the 5.26ha Centrum site opposite the Durban Exhibition Centre - the biggest chunk of publicly owned open space in Durban.

The city is also looking at converting Virginia Airport site into a mixed use development comprising offices and upmarket apartments.

A number of developers had approached the city with proposals and these were being considered.

The municipality would hold a strategic planning meeting early in the new year where all the development proposals would be discussed.

The KZN managing director of property services firm Broll, Colin Sher, welcomed the idea.

The Centrum site could create more retail space or offices similar to the successful Kingsmead office park, he said.

The city risked losing business to the north if there was not much development in the CBD, he warned.

"Durban commercial and industrial rates are the highest in the country and we have become anticompetitive. If we can have more development that will boost the city's rates base and lessen the burden on business then I support the proposal," Sher said.

Birdlife Port Natal chairwoman Lesley Frescura, who has previously commended the Durban Country Club for its commitment to the conservation of birds and their habitat, said the city should do its best to maintain its green areas.

However, she said, golf courses were generally not good green areas.

"They are exclusive, manicured and, apart from pretty flower beds, there is not much wildlife. I would like to see mixed development that will include indigenous trees and wild flower gardens," she said.

The Mercury was unable to reach the Durban Country Club's Gerhard Patzer for comment.

The Mercury


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