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Thursday Aug 18, 2011

Joburg's multi billion facelift

The Joburg city skyline is set to change following a decision to build decking over the railway lines that serve as divides in areas around the city.

An artist's impression of the Wits/Newtown precinct surrounding the Nelson Mandela bridge.

The familiar sight of the railway lines crisscrossing the Joburg CBD and surrounding areas will be altered by a project involving the construction of decking over the railway tracks between Fordsburg and Doornfontein to create new residential, educational, public and business development spaces.

The city's economic development department identified the area covered by railway tracks as real estate which was highly valuable but not being used to its full potential. And so a multi-billion rand project called Decking of the Railways was born, and will see the area directly above the tracks being claimed through what is referred to as "air rights".

Head of the city's special catalytic projects, Bokaba Maluleke, said a market analysis study had been conducted to convert this air space above the railway lines for mixed-use development.

"We have had meetings with many stakeholders, including the Johannesburg Business Forum which includes bankers, property owners and educational institutes, and have consulted with them to ensure that there is support for the project," he said.

Currently the land was not generating income for the city, but through the new project it would not only do this, but would create about 45 000 jobs both during and after construction, he said.

The decking of land above railway lines has been done all over the world, and is seen in Paris, London and the US. The Millennium Park in Chicago is one good example.

"Land in the inner city areas is scarce. We cannot expand outwards, we can only go up. The infrastructure is already there - the city will have to upgrade the current services to accommodate the new developments, but the private

Tsector would pay for the decking and construction," he said. But there is a grey area regarding who the land belongs to. "The land is owned by the city but the Passenger Rail Agency South Africa and Transnet have servitudes over the lines, so it will have to be decided who it belongs to. But either way, the land above the lines will be leased by either us, or the railway servitude owners, to the developers," he said.

Although the exact costs are not known, the first phase between the M1 and Fordsburg will cost R2.2 billion to cover with decking.

Several precincts have been identified for development, which will be done in phases:

  • M1 Fordsburg.

  • Nelson Mandela Bridge will become a park and an extension for Wits University and other education institutions which are running out of space. The idea is to create an educational city precinct.

  • Park Station is already largely decked, but the decking will be done in some other sections.

  • The Doornfontein precinct, near the station and University of Johannesburg premises, which will be extended.

    Maluleke said this was a 30-year plan. Work on the peripheral areas will start in about three months.

    The City of Joburg's member of the mayoral committee for economic development Sello Lemao said the project was based on several development principles: to innovatively use the space above the rail tracks to develop a balanced district, to enhance public transport appeal by improving the road network and accessibility to the inner city, to introduce and maximise services, public amenities and green spaces, and to create sustainable jobs.

    Reports have already been received for the project that are being studied by the Decking Working Group which will finalise the first draft business plan.

    Virtual animation of the decking will soon be constructed to assist with enhancement of the concept.

    The Star

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