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Monday Nov 14, 2016

GO!Durban catalyst for Pinetown Improvement District

With the upgrade of the road systems in Pinetown for the first phase of the GO!Durban integrated rapid public transport network which will link the CBD to KwaMashu’s Bridge City, residents and business owners in the area can look forward to an upgraded urban environment that is poised to stimulate the economy in the area.

The St John’s Bridge underpass has been reconfigured for the GO!Durban BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) dedicated bus lanes.

Local business has called for a proposal for Pinetown to establish an urban improvement precinct (UIP) - along the same lines as has changed uMhlanga and boosted commercial property values - as a means for injecting capital investment and promoting sustainable business.

A public meeting held recently in Pinetown, hosted by GO!Durban, ended with the prescribed three volunteers willing to take up the crime which leads to fear and ultimately an undesirable space, that translates into private property devaluations and lower rentals.

She stresses the UIP concept is not a South African elitist one and originated in Canada to deal with the issue for getting more out of property values by tackling the public spaces in which they are situated. Internationally the aim is to maintain vibrant spaces and the optimism for public private partnerships to invest in public space and thus encourage a live, work, play environment.

"Although the city owns the public space, it is those businesses with vested interest in that space that must drive change and partnerships to prevent or reverse urban decay. The aim is to secure property values by building investor confidence and retaining existing or attracting new businesses," Reilly says.

Core to the UIP are establishing and maintaining a relationship with eThekwini Municipality; providing the privately funded supplementary services including security and cleaning; creating dedicated points of contact so that the municipality and the UIP have a single point of communication; and being a catalyst for social and environmental development.

Citing the uMhlanga Rocks example, Reilly says when that UIP was formed in 2006 the neighbourhood had suffered 17 attacks in public spaces within two months; there was little law enforcement and urban decay was rampant so there was no pride of place among residents and business owners. The UIP fixed signposts, removed graffiti and persuaded the municipality to invest in broken infrastructure - and today the zone can boast more than R5 billion in new and upgraded investment in property opportunities.

The eThekwini Municipality Economic Development and Investment Promotions Unit’s Gary Cullen says the city recognises UIPs as growing opportunities in the city.

"Historically the municipality viewed the concept as "vested interests", but there has been a shift that recognises a public private partnership in these public spaces means eThekwini can more diversely spread its resources," says Cullen.

"There is also a recognition that a significant portion of the municipal budget comes from commercial property rates, so there is a need for the municipality and business to work together.

"The municipality wants to simplify the UIP process so it can roll out the concept throughout the metropolitan area. We need to do our bit to make the process easier - the municipality recognises the wealthier areas like uMhlanga can achieve successes with a UIP, but that raises questions on how can we work with those less affluent areas to establish UIPs," he says.

South African Property Owners Association (Sapoa) consultant Andrew Layman says globally public transport nodes attract business and economic activity.

Urban precincts, which in Durban are called UIPs rather than merely urban precincts, happen around the world. In SA there are 33 such organisations in Gauteng and 35 in Cape Town.

Layman was recently appointed by the Sapoa KwaZulu-Natal branch to lead UIP projects throughout the city.

He says the National Treasury wholly supports the concept of public-private partnerships to manage urban development and precincts. When the concept was first mooted in South Africa during the late 1990s, it was considered elitist in that the initial areas were gated communities, and were locking out citizens.

"Today, these structures need to be inclusive and embrace everyone wanting to come into the UIP zone as that is the only way to promote economic growth and development. Economic growth cannot happen when you exclude people," Layman says.

The benefit inherent in UIPs is that the private sector, essentially the ratepayers, are involved in the decision- making process for improving the zone. A key SA example is the Cape Town city centre, managed by the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) and anchored by the public transport hub, where previously gangs ruled the area and it was a no-go zone for the general public.

In 2006, six years after the CCID was instituted, property values in the area topped R6bn.

Today that figure tops R24bn as the zone has been cleaned up; citizens are willing to use the public space and the precinct management has ensured a public space that generates economic investment and confidence.

"If the private sector is unwilling to invest in public space, knowing the city is unable to do so given their resource constraints, it cannot blame the public sector for failing them," Layman says.

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)




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