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Thursday Apr 25, 2013

Shock at change of Durban beachfront plan

Former Durban manager Michael Sutcliffe is back on the planning warpath, determined to preserve the original vision of the R248 million Durban beachfront upgrade conceived during his tenure as the city boss.

In a formal letter of objection drafted this week as part of the EIA approval process, Sutcliffe said the beachfront upgrade plan near Blue Lagoon had been altered recently and this would have the effect of creating a new hazard for traffic, cyclists, walkers and bathers by constricting the width of the new promenade.

Re-emerging from nearly two years of relative public obscurity, Sutcliffe said he was "shocked" that city manager Sibusiso Sithole had allowed himself to be persuaded by city officials to amend the original beachfront promenade upgrade.

Sutcliffe said the plan was intended to encourage the use of the entire promenade from uShaka in the south to Blue Lagoon in the north by establishing a wider promenade and creating a more effective pedestrian walkway and cycling corridor.

To do this, it was necessary to demolish the 26-year-old Laguna Beach pools and build a new set of pools at Blue Lagoon where there was more space for recreation, busturning circles and parking bays.

The Laguna pools had also been built and designed under apartheid for black people, and Sutcliffe said there was not enough space to widen the promenade sufficiently if the pools remained.

The city has submitted amendments to the original EIA with the intention of keeping the Laguna pools and shelving plans to build new pools at Blue Lagoon.

The result of this amendment was that the width of the promenade near Laguna Beach would be narrowed to just 4.2m, which meant that during times of high traffic, cyclists and pedestrians would be forced to move into the roadway.

Apart from that safety risk, metro police would also be compelled to close off the adjoining roadway at Laguna Beach during sporting and social events to alleviate the new traffic "pinch point".

"This can be easily demonstrated in looking at how the annual East Coast Radio 'Big Walk' will be arranged.

"Starting at uShaka, this walk will be able to be accommodated on the promenade for its whole length until the Laguna Pools is reached. At this point participants will have to walk on the roadway, which means that the roadway will have to be closed off for events, but also shows that walkers, cyclists, joggers etc are at risk when reaching Laguna Pools."

According to Sutcliffe, this would contradict the original basis on which the promenade was built, largely with grant-funding from the national government's NonMotorised Fund, which aimed to reduce conflict between motorised traffic and other forms of transport.

The former city manager said he wrote to Sithole in February to voice his concern and amended plans.

"I am worried that this new change will in time backfire on us. In addition I do think that if the matter was properly aired in public there would be huge support for the earlier plans which were passed after a long process."

Sutcliffe said he received a response from Sithole, who said the city had reviewed all the upgrades and that "taking into account all budget considerations, the option of revamping the current pools was most favourable and the design changes that were made did not in any way compromise the overall objectives of the beachfront upgrade".

Sithole also said when the original design was formulated, most line departments had not been consulted.

"This omission is regretted and could have influenced decisions about the cost benefit of revamping Laguna Pools instead of demolishing them."

Sutcliffe denied this and insisted all departments were consulted.

The Mercury


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