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Friday Jan 01, 2016

Focus on Durban beachfront as economic drawcard

Several projects expected to pump billions of rand into the eThekwini economy and become catalysts for job creation and private sector investments are expected in the year ahead.

Addressing a Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry central area business forum meeting on the integrated inner-city local area and regeneration project, eThekwini Municipality deputy city manager, economic development and planning, Musa Mbhele, said a number of projects were scheduled to take shape before December.

These include the Point Waterfront project where detailed announcements were expected in the next two months, water pressure upgrades to support development initiatives, Warwick Triangle projects targeting decent working environments for the informal traders, and expansion plans to the beachfront promenade with details released later in the year.

"Key in the process is ensuring the beachfront becomes an economic drawcard," he said.

Mbhele anticipated news from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa on the Berea Station upgrade.

However, he admitted the municipality was concerned about the number of abandoned and hijacked buildings, and the state of Mahatma Gandhi (Point) Road as an entrance channel to the waterfront. Without resolving these issues, the city could not expect significant private sector investment.

Consequently, the municipality planned to use Mahatma Gandhi Road to showcase its potential and would be enforcing by-laws in tackling the existing problems.

Metro Police senior superintendent, Theuns van Heerden, acknowledged the force was aware the city lacked visible policing, principally as Metro Police had not employed new staff since 2010. However, the city recently provided the budget for additional officers and there was a commitment to "putting bobbies back on the beat" in the inner-city and on the beachfront.

"We are aware that without safety, investments cannot come to the city," he said.

A multi-disciplinary concept aimed at restoring the inner-city to its former glory by attracting business and economic growth, the eThekwini integrated innercity local area and regeneration project involves input from Metro Police, Durban Solid Waste, Safer Cities, finance, informal trade, planning, water, electricity, engineering, transport, legal, fire, health, environmental health, housing and communication.

Proposals are expected to develop the area into "a vibrant, connected, walkable and integrated city centre to provide suitable environments for economic, residential, sport and leisure opportunities".

Urban-Econ Development Economists eThekwini branch manager, Talia Feigenbaum, said rejuvenating the inner-city was vital given the UN estimated more than 70 percent of South Africa's population would be urbanised by 2030, rising to 80 percent by 2050, with 64 percent being youth. An estimated 2 million new residents were expected to move to Durban by 2040.

However, the city could not continue its current growth path where the bulk of innercity growth was jobless, and where it struggled under issues of crime and grime, and inadequate public transport, much of which disobeyed the by-laws.

The regeneration could potentially access employment opportunities, reduce transport costs and introduce a range of housing opportunities to facilitate urban growth.

Urban Solutions director, Paul Wygers, said the spatial framework looked at three cross-cutting themes including basing the proposal on understanding the past and how the city currently functioned.

Resilient developments would be based on regeneration principles to achieve a functioning property market – issues already discussed with the South African Property Owners Association, efficient capital markets to attract investments and a growing labour market. He said the total developed potential for the inner city could boost residential accommodation by 60 percent, retail space by 5 percent, commercial and industrial space by 20 percent and other amenities by 15 percent.

This would see another 450 000 people living in the inner-city. Only 60 000 residents reside there today.

Wygers said while Durban had various development proposals, these had not been consolidated into a single vision. Taking guidance from the National Development Plan, the local area plan consolidated inner-city development initiatives and sought answers to accommodating new entrants to the city.

Key to its success would be integrating departmental strategies and projects.

Feigenbaum said tourism, new small and medium businesses and services and education were three economic drivers. In terms of tourism, the sector had to consider providing the right accommodation mix for people visiting the city and "stop looking at taxi tourism as negative", but as an opportunity to ensure money it generated was spent correctly.

The inner city attracts about 40 000 students daily to tertiary education institutions operating in the area. However, insufficient inner-city accommodation meant those students were commuters rather than being able to live, work and play in the same zone.

Wygers said the integrated plan would incorporate ideas from London-based transport company Space Syntax on pedestrian spaces and a shared street concept.

Feigenbaum encouraged the public to register online at www.durban.gov.za under the inner-city tab to keep updated on the project. The city would hold an open day in March during which the public could view the plans and propose ideas.

Sunday Tribune

 
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