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Monday Apr 16, 2012

South Durban 'set to eclipse Joburg as biggest economic hub'

Durban's dig-out port could propel the city to take over as the new economic hub of the country. Already land sales are booming in the south Durban basin area.

Transnet's dig-out port, to be located at the old Durban International Airport site, which they bought for R1.8 billion this week, signals a catalyst for economic development in south Durban, an area which is already the second largest contributor to the country's GDP.

Speaking on the sidelines of the provincial Treasury's Economic Symposium yesterday, the MEC for Finance, Ina Cronjé, said that the intention was to bolster the province to become the main economic hub of the country.

"That's where we want to go because our economy is the second largest in the country. Gauteng is the largest, making up 34 percent of GDP, and we are just under 17 percent of GDP but population-wise we are very similar. We have the strategic advantages of two ports, an international airport and a long coastline which they don't have. We believe we can become the economic hub of the country," Cronje said.

The project is expected to create 20 000 direct jobs, and was expected to cost more than R100bn over the next 25 years.

The first phase was expected to be completed by 2019, and the rest by 2037. A terminal with 16 container berths, five automotive berths and four liquid bulk berths were some of the plans revealed this week.

Mark van Wyk, the Prospecton Business Forum chairman, said the port would have a major impact on the region.

However, the changes may not be positive news for some business owners who stand in the path of the channel.

"We've got members who will be forced to relocate according to the plans that we have seen," said Van Wyk.

Meanwhile, the issue of land is being hotly debated.

Keith Chetty, a commercial real estate manager at Lighthouse property group, said: "The demand for commercial and industrial property has increased dramatically in recent times in and around the current port."

Chetty said some residents living on the perimeter of the old airport would be hoping to sell their homes and land for much higher prices, to supply the expected increase in property demand.

Trevor Martin, who handles the Durban south for the Chalupsky industrial and commercial property group, said while land was in short supply around the old airport site, Transnet's injection into the area would positively stimulate jobs in the area.

"With commercial and industrial businesses wanting to come in, it would make the whole southern node from Clairwood to the Southgate industrial area in Amanzimtoti a very sought after logistics hub," said Martin.

He added that it would be interesting to see what would happen to the Clairwood Racecourse site, up for sale.

Safmarine's Southern Africa cluster manager, Jonathan Horn, said: "A bigger, more effective port will help shipping lines, such as Safmarine, improve transit times, service reliability and vessel turnaround, while offering the benefits of increased efficiencies and flexibility."

Alan Olivier, the Grindrod CEO, said: "Durban is becoming congested and although there is some scope to increase capacity in the current port, in the longer term the dug-out will be essential for not only the region's growth but the country's growth, especially when you consider that over 67 percent of the country's container traffic flows through this port."

The DA'S Johann Krog said the dig-out port greatly enhanced the province's prospects of becoming the gateway to the continent.

However, south Durban residents were uncertain about the impact the dig-out port would have on the area.

Isipingo Ratepayers' Association chairman, Dharmanand Nowbuth, said residents were fearful of what the future held.

"While we are happy that such a big project is happening that would stimulate the country's economy, people in the area want to know what it means for them, and how they would benefit from jobs.

Nowbuth's concern was that people "in the know" have already been snapping up land in the area and establishing trucking businesses, in anticipation of the dig-out port.

"Somehow people have been buying vacant land and turning them into trucking businesses. We may end up like Clairwood," said Nowbuth.

He added that the municipality needed to tell residents if the area surrounding the old airport would be rezoned industrial to accommodate the expected demand for land once the port construction began.

Rishi Singh, chairman of the Clairwood Ratepayers' Association, said residents felt that the government was putting money before people.

"There are many subsistence farmers in the area, and how will they benefit from the dig-out port," he questioned.

Desmond D'SA, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said there had been no communication by Transnet with the local communities such as Bluff, Clairwood and Wentworth.

"Silence breeds mistrust. Very soon Transnet will face the anger of the people."

D'SA said the communities surrounding the area were "products of forced removals" and with the new dig-out port, people would not be happy to be forced to move again.

The Independant on Saturday

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