Future of Ashburton under microscope

2009-11-17 00:00

JUST past the Lynnfield Park turn-off, driving north on the N3, you get your first panoramic view of the landscape within which lies Pietermaritzburg: rolling waves of low hills towards the Msunduzi and, beyond, a horizon dominated by the flat top of Swartkop to the left and the abrupt fall of Otto’s Bluff to the right.

As you continue down the N3, a series of dams trickle down towards the Melkop Spruit. These dams will be incorporated into a proposed development, the Mpushini Business Park, adjacent to the freeway. This 59-hectare development consists of a mixed-use industrial park, office parks, a commercial centre, a residential development and an area of open space. While the business park may not obliterate the view, it will change it irrevocably, visually redefining the approach into the provincial capital.

Visual pollution is already a factor in the Ashburton area adjacent to the freeway. A large church is being constructed close to the proposed development area, there is also a large lorry park, creeping domestic housing, and the long slab of the Unilever warehouse on the skyline at Shortt’s Retreat.

The development application for the Mpushini Business Park was heard by the Development Facilitation Act (DFA) tribunal chaired by Ray Swart last Tuesday. Peter Jewell of Peter Jewell Consulting Services presented on behalf of the developer, Cherry Moss Trade and Investment 48 (Pty) Ltd, and outlined the various features, set out below, of the proposed development.

• A mixed-use logistic park of 159 200 square metres. “Logistics,” explained Jewell, “is industry that is not noisy, not smelly and there are no emissions. We are looking at packaging, repackaging, storage and redistribution.”

• A low-impact mixed-use development comprising 4 765 square metres. “This is a commercial area,” said Jewell. “We were asked by the municipality to provide shops and food outlets to service the development area.”

• A 40 807 square-metre office park consisting of corporate and professional offices. These could include public offices and government offices.

• A general residential development comprising 48 apartments. “These would be used to house staff and management of companies who take up the units.”

• A central conservation area and wetland consisting of 14,6 hectares of private open space. “The wetland goes through the middle of the development and consists mainly of man-made dams,” said Jewell.

There would also be an Eskom sub-station. “This would serve the development and upgrade the existing service to Lynnfield Park.”

Jewell pointed out that the municipal Spatial Development Framework (SDF) identifies the Lynn­field Park-Lion Park turn-off as an economic opportunity point and that the development is “in line with municipal policy”. He said the proposed development fits in with the municipality’s Integrated Development Plan, the provincial development strategy and the uMgungundlovu District Municipality and the Msunduzi Municipality’s SDF. “All these point to the development of land on the strategic location of the priority corridor area between eThekwini and Msunduzi.”

The Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs (DAEA) has given a positive Record of Decision (ROD) for the Mpushini Business Park on the basis that it should not have adverse environmental impacts and that its earlier concerns had been addressed.

However, the Department of Local Government and Traditional Affairs (DLGTA) has given a negative ROD to the development and would prefer a low-cost housing development instead. Jewell said he is not clear as to the department’s reasons for the objection but believes it is working from planning legislation that had been superseded. However no representative of the department was present to explain the objections.

Currently, the proposed development has neither a signed services agreement with the Msunduzi Municipality nor is there a signed council approval for the development.

Peter Akerman, a member of the tribunal, said the architectural style of the proposed development is not suitable for the location. “This is the gateway to Pietermaritzburg with an attractive view,” he said. “A canyon effect would be detrimental to the entry of the city.” Akerman said the development would be an “enormous visual intrusion”.

David Gengan, Msunduzi Municipality’s manager of investment promotion, apologised for the lack of a council resolution in support of the development. He said a resolution supporting the development would be presented to the Executive Committee (Exco) by the end of November and then to full council for approval.

Gengan said he was surprised at the DLGTA’s negative ROD as there was a DLGTA steering committee of which he was a member that was seeking to unlock development along the N3 corridor and the ROD contradicted this policy. He said this committee was looking at the “bringing together of eThekwini and Msunduzi, but we don’t want to duplicate Midrand”.

Asked by Akerman if he wasn’t concerned at building on an open grassland area that provided an inviting entry into Pietermaritzburg, Gengan said the municipality is interested in creating economic opportunities. “But we will have an impact on the design of the buildings.”

At one point in the hearing there was confusion over the status of the planning legislation that applies to Ashburton. Ashburton was previously a separate entity but was incorporated into the Msunduzi Municipality in 2000. Gengan was adamant that the development and Ashburton have to be seen in the context of the Msunduzi Municipality SDF. However representatives of the Preservation of the Mkondeni Mpushini Biodiversity Trust (PMMB Trust) were equally adamant that the planning vision for the area is guided by the structured plan that underpins the Ashburton Town Planning Scheme which is still in force. Gengan said that the municipality approved the SDF on September 3 and that no other planning documents have legal status.

DFA tribunal chairperson Ray Swart intervened at this point telling the PMMB Trust representative, Pandora Long, that “this is a dispute between you and the municipality and your ward councillor”.

The tribunal was unable to give a ruling on the proposed development. “We are unable to approve or reject the application at this stage,” said Swart. “It would be premature with so many outstanding matters undecided.”

Swart said the hearing would be adjourned to March 8, 2010, when the tribunal would require information on a number of matters.

• Clarity on the financial control of the development and the arrangements to fund basic infrastructure: water, electricity and sewage, etc. “We are all confused as to what we heard this morning,” Swart said. “We want precise information on the funding of the proposed development.”

• With regard to the DLGTA corridor committee mentioned by Gengan, Swart said a response is required from this committee as to whether the proposed development has received their consideration. He also said the DLGTA should be present at the adjourned hearing to account for its written submission.

• Further evidence of a commitment to BEE principles by the applicant as required by the DFA.

• That the Msunduzi Municipality supply, firstly, a council resolution indicating its attitude to the development “including council commitment to the SDF and how it believes this development fits into the SDF”. Swart also required a signed services aggrement between the council and the applicant.

Finally, Swart wanted to know if “the council is satisfied that a development 10 metres off the N3 is appropriate” in order to protect the integrity of the entry to the city of Pietermaritzburg.

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