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Thursday May 17, 2012

Durban 'should not be hasty on Vetch's decision'

Take the wait-and-see approach when it comes to development at Vetch's Pier.

That was the advice given yesterday by the eThekwini Municipality's chairman of the human settlements committee, Nigel Gumede, to the city's executive committee.

The municipality, embroiled in legal battles over the proposed development of Vetch's Beach since 2001, has been trying to push for a leasing agreement for a small-craft harbour and hotel to go through despite pending legal challenges and threats of more court action.

Gumede said the municipality should not be hasty in adopting the recommendations, but instead should wait for the city's lawyers to give the committee more information on the contentious subject.

"If we agree to these recommendations, they may be a non-starter if the court case is not resolved," he said, referring to recommendations that the city should go ahead with the proposed development despite threats of a legal challenge.

The lease - which Gumede said needed to be amended from 99 years to 20 years - would pave the way for a multibillion-rand development, including a hotel, luxury flats, shops and a new yacht marina.

The city was backtracking on the term of the lease agreement because the Integrated Coastal Management Act of 2009 stated that public property could only be leased for a maximum of 20 years, unless the environmental minister and Parliament agreed to extend it.

The city has in the past said that the proposed development would not only attract about R4 billion in private investment, but would also create about 5 000 permanent and 6 000 temporary jobs.

In 2010, the Save Vetch's Association (SVA), which described the development as "a playground for the super rich", launched two court challenges. The first was to contest environmental approval of the development. The group also sought to set aside the developer's boundaries or high-water mark in the second application.

The two matters are still pending, but the SVA has threatened that it would mount another challenge if the lease was approved.

The document tabled at yesterday's meeting recommended that council agree to enter into a lease with the national government in respect of the seashore, the sea and the sea bed between Vetch's Pier and the North Pier of the Durban Harbour for a period of 99 years at a total rental of R99 000, payable in one sum.

It further recommended that the council authorise city manager Sibusiso Sithole to sign all documentation necessary to bring the lease into effect.

However, Gumede said: "If we agree (to the recommendations), this may be a non-starter if the court case is not resolved. We may find ourselves with resolutions that can't be implemented."

The matter was deferred to the next meeting.

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