Residents refuse to give up

2012-07-20 00:00

IT’S been over two years since Mondi sold a large swathe of land to a Durban developer — mostly forestry land around the Hilton N3 off-ramp. Developer Neels Brink of Laurusco Holdings has plans to turn the green lung of more than 80 hectares into a huge commercial development, including housing, office and business parks, a hotel and a shopping centre.

The name, Hilton, has appeal to investors who think the upmarket midlands village could be a property cash cow. But determined residents have fought the development tooth and nail in an effort to preserve their country environment, and to prevent urban sprawl developing in their neck of the woods.

The initial plan proposed by Brink was partly rejected and some aspects of the plan received conditional approval from the uMngeni Municipality last month. Steve Simpson of the uMngeni Municipality’s planning department told the public that the department’s concerns have been taken into consideration.

The process continues as stakeholders have been invited to appeal the decision taken by the uMngeni Municipality. Aspects of contention are still the impact of the development on the environment, with some objectors saying the environmental impact assessment (EIA) did not take into account the damage that would occur to the neighbouring properties.

Judy Bell from the Winterskloof Conservancy believes that the commercial development is not suitable in these tough economic times.

“This development will just encourage urban sprawl and ruin the existing natural environment.”

Bell is urging other interested parties who objected to the development in the initial public-participation phases to come forward and participate in the appeals process.

To date, at least 10 appeals have already been lodged with the PDA Appeals Tribunal and residents and stakeholders who still wish to object have until August 6 to lodge their appeal.

Owen Greene was the first party to lodge an appeal against the uMngeni Municipality’s decision. He said he believes the studies that were done to motivate for the building of a shopping centre on the land are flawed.

“They made incorrect assumptions that elderly people from ‘the Ambers’ who have spending power would travel to Hilton to buy things. They buy what they need in Howick.”

Greene said that overloading the area with too many shopping centres can spell disaster. “You end up with two half-empty centres which are depressing.”

Greene believes that the more obvious solution would be to develop the existing Rotunda as a commercial hub as it already has access to the highway.

He believes that if the original development plan were to go ahead, Hilton would follow in the footsteps of Hillcrest, which he believes is a “congestion nightmare”.

Paul Walters, who has appealed the decision on behalf of the Wedgewood Estate, said their main concerns are about the lack of a proper EIA.

“We have a very high biodiversity rating from Ezemvelo and we are an Oribi custodian. We are concerned that our land will be hugely affected by the proposed development. Our concerns were not taken into account in the EIA. They did not even visit our site.”

Walters also emphasised that the 30 000 square metre shopping centre proposed by the developers is totally unnecessary. “We conducted our own feasibility study and the conclusion was that there is no capacity to support a shopping centre of that size.”

Brink is also appealing against uMngeni’s decision, pushing for the inclusion of a light-industrial park, saying that it will bring major employment opportunities.

The uMngeni Municipality has also refused the surety of a bank guarantee in respect of the site development. A municipality that already has cashflow problems does not want to be sitting with more debt headaches. There is already the issue of the provision of water and electricity. The whole deal rests on the conditional delivery of these essential services by Eskom and uMgungundlovu.

A R35 million loan was promised by the provincial administration to the uMgungundlovu District Municipality to secure piped water and to build sewage infrastructure from the Groenekloof reservoir to the new Hilton development. No one seems to know whether this grant still exists.

TRISH BEAVER

Residents refuse to give up

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