Municipal dithering costs city

2014-03-21 00:00

DITHERING on a deal may cost the Msunduzi Municipality yet another opportunity to develop vacant land next to “motor city” in the former Bird Sanctuary area.

The city apparently first lost out on an opportunity for an apprentice skills training facility to be developed on the land. This facility was eventually built in Pinetown.

Then, there was the opportunity to develop a state-of-the-art Audi dealership on the property. However, the unavailability of the land also killed this project and Pietermaritzburg had to make do with the re-development of the current Audi dealership.

All of this is contained in a letter from multinational company Barlo­world to the municipality, which spoke of opportunities lost due to Msunduzi’s “procrastination on the matter”.

It seems the final straw for Barloworld’s executive manager for properties, Eugene Cox, was being asked yet again to write a motivation to acquire the property.

He believed there was an existing council resolution agreeing to sell the land to the company, and questioned the need for a another motivation.

Dated March 10, his letter was addressed to David Gengan, Manager for Investment Promotion at Msunduzi. Cox said, “It is a concern that Barloworld is once again requested to write a motivation to acquire the property as detailed above. Since Barloworld did the big investment in 2004 in the three facilities located on Armitage Road, we have been in discussions with various members of council to acquire the property for development. It is sad to see that the property is still undeveloped and that the Council is losing revenue and job opportunities are lost.”

Cox said Barloworld was still committed to Pietermaritzburg, as evidenced by its four motor vehicle dealerships and one commercial vehicle dealership trading in the area.

“Barloworld has last year formed a joint venture with MANline and the parties have agreed that the new head office for the trading division will be located in Pietermaritzburg. The lack and unavailability of zoned land earmarked for motor dealerships is stifling new investments,” Cox added.

DA councillor Bill Lambert, who read out Cox’s letter at the last Executive Council meeting, was scathing of the delays and questioned Gengan’s part in the fiasco. It turns out the deal could have floundered because of the municipality’s chequered past.

In 2009, the then council resolved not to sell the land to Barloworld. That council wanted the land to be sold to a company with 40% Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) status. However, the municipality plunged to the brink of bankruptcy and was placed under administration.

In 2010, a decision was apparently taken by administrator Johann Mettler that the cash-strapped municipality needed funds. He revived land sales deals and the council was said to have decided that the land could be sold to Barloworld.

The situation changed once more when administrator Sibusiso Sithole took over and instituted a moratorium on all land sales.

The situation lay dormant until the current administration revived the issue of land sales. It is believed that the council resolved that all future land sales would be through a public competition process.

Hence, Barloworld was asked to present a new development proposal.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said the PCB would work with the municipality to ensure that the matter was resolved soonest, “so that the confidence that Barloworld has shown in

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