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Monday Jun 25, 2012

Terrain challenges Cornubia low-cost property development

Roughly the size of Umhlanga, the multibillion-rand Cornubia low-cost housing development is slowly taking shape on the hills of sugar cane fields north of Durban.

Several housing units have already been built in the pilot phase.

However, it's not all smooth sailing for the massive development. The hilly terrain and poor soil conditions have proved challenging for the contractors.

The Cornubia Precinct, at a massive 1 200ha, is a joint venture between Tongaat-Hulett Developments and the eThekwini Municipality, and aims to develop a "mixed-use" urban settlement that would include industrial, commercial and residential areas.

Cornubia is expected to create 387 000 construction-related jobs and nearly 43 000 permanent jobs, and expected to contribute R237.6 million a year to the city's rates base and about R1.5 billion a year in taxes.

The long-awaited project broke ground in the latter part of last year, and is expected to be completed within the next 20 years, with housing and jobs for thousands of people.

Impoverished families, who now live in many of the city's sprawling informal settlements, are expected to benefit from the housing development.

And apart from the low-cost housing units, there will also be middle- to high-income houses that will be built for sale.

At 1200ha the development is roughly the size of Umhlanga.

Four hundred and eighty six units are meant to be completed in the pilot phase of the project by March next year, and another 2 400 units are expected to be completed in the second phase of the project.

Dave Duke, technical director at Vela VKE, the company contracted for the civil engineering and planning, said that about 30 to 40 housing units had been completed so far.

However, the hilly terrain posed a challenge in certain sections. "We had to level out the land in some parts by doing mass platforming," Duke said.

Massive earthworks were undertaken.

Vela VKE is responsible for developing the framework planning - including for road networks and storm-water systems, and identifying the provisions for bulk water supply - and the houses are being developed by SLB Consulting.

The pilot phase, however, could take longer than expected to complete.

The municipality has said that while the target for completion of the 486 units in the pilot phase is March next year, delays were expected.

"Delays in the construction activities due to rainfall and increased works will result in the programme slipping by a few months," said municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng.

Before the units could be built, the contractors had to create a road network.

However, with the rise and fall of valleys, much of the road network has had to traverse the hillsides, to create suitable transport routes.

Roundabouts have also been introduced as a speed-control measure.

Duke said the topography of the land was difficult for housing, but typical of KwaZuluNatal land. The soil, too, was "unsuitable", as Duke explained that the clay content made it challenging for building foundations.

Duke said much of the clay had to be removed and replaced by rock and other suitable materials.

Apart from the land and the soil content, Duke said that noise levels from the nearby King Shaka International Airport had to be taken into account in the positioning of the housing units.

"In difficult areas like phase one A, we had to adjust the terrain to make it developable," Duke said.

However, once the units were completed and municipal services such as water, electricity and sewer systems connected, the occupants will move in.

The city is remaining tightlipped over who exactly the occupants of the low-cost homes will be.

"Residents from existing informal settlements will be identified for relocation to Phase 1A. A decision will be taken by the council on which settlements are to be targeted for relocation, taking into account various criteria," said Mofokeng, adding that overcrowding and hazardous or unsafe conditions were some of the criteria that the city would look at in deciding who got the units.

Whoever the fortunate first occupants will be, they will have homes that comprise two bedrooms upstairs, and a lounge, kitchen and bathroom downstairs. The units were so good, said Duke, that "if you had to sell them, they could easily go for about R200 000".

Cornubia is meant to be sustainable, with residents living close to the industrial areas that are to also spring up within Cornubia's borders.

Duke said that several leading retailers had already indicated their interest in space in the industrial and commercial plots that were expected to come up in phase 2.

Phase 2 of the project covers a larger area and includes a range of housing units to cater for a range of income groups, industrial and commercial sites and social clusters.

"The Environmental Impact Assessment process has commenced for this phase and it is expected that this process will be finalised by December 2013," Mofokeng said.

The industrial and commercial areas will include a range of logistics, light industry, service industrial, office and showroom uses, and is expected to generate economic opportunities for residents within Cornubia and surrounding areas such as Waterloo and Ottawa.

The Independent on Saturday

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