Cape Town problem buildings get the boot

2015-06-25 16:27
(Nielen de Klerk, News24)

(Nielen de Klerk, News24)

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Cape Town - A derelict, lower Woodstock building, which many believe largely contributed to crime in the suburb, has been demolished following years of complaints.

A bulldozer moved in last week to tear down the Old Sub Station building, owned by Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and located a stone's throw away from the suburb's popular tourist hot spot, the Old Biscuit Mill.

Prasa Western Cape real estate asset manager Henry Masimla said budget constraints had prevented the agency from removing the problematic crime den. Plans have been put forward for the property's future use, but nothing had been decided yet.

Dozens of vagrants frequented the graffitied structure believed to have attracted drug dealers, abusers and prostitutes, prompting several police raids.

Rachel Irvine, a resident in the flats overlooking the now-empty plot, said: "We have 24-hour security in the building and at shift change, when the new security guards come in for early morning shift, they've been attacked by desperate drug addicts for nothing more than their cellphone. They've ended up bloody and bruised."

Yet, the city's issue with problem buildings was not limited to Woodstock.

According to Heart FM News reports, Cape Town has a specialised problem building unit currently investigating 1 855 complaints of possible problem buildings across the metro.

Earlier this month the municipality demolished the infamous drug outlet and illegal shebeen dubbed the "Little House on the Prairie" in Belhar to make way for a deployment base for its law enforcement department.

The city declared war on problem buildings in 2010 with a new by-law and unit, quickly identifying several cases.

"I think it's a unique Cape Town success story" mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said.

The unit closed 277 cases last year, enforcing the bylaw stating errant owners of buildings deemed problematic because they were derelict, abandoned or inhabited by illegal occupants, may be held liable to fix up the property or face hefty fines up to R300 000 or three years behind bars.

Smith believed the lower Woodstock crime den, covered with gang signs and graffiti reading “fuck shit up” paled in comparison to other problem buildings.

"On a city-wide scale, if you rate that building out of 10, it's maybe a five. You have situations elsewhere in Woodstock and Salt River far more serious. If you look at the situation in Wright Street... that is a major, complicated problem with very serious gang involvement," added Smith.

"Other cities barely have a mechanism to cope with this. One city said they have 4 500 problem buildings of which 1 500 are beyond redemption. We've been steadily making progress. It takes years sometimes if the owners are deceased or heavily armed with their advocates or attorneys delaying matters in court. But in the end they yield."

While several complaints were made to the city, Prasa and the local ward councillor about the Woodstock building over the past few years, it was not until last week that action was finally taken.

"Ideally I think it should be turned into a parking lot for the neighbouring businesses," said Woodstock Improvement District manager Christopher Lloyd, who was overjoyed about the building's removal.

However, a few people could still be seen hanging around the empty plot.

Irvine believed while the crime den had been removed, it would not completely fix the problem.

"People know to come here and buy drugs, so the drug dealers are not going to move on."

Lloyd added: ''It's been a huge problem for a good number of years, but at the end of the day I'd like to say we're winning the battle, but haven't won the war as yet.”

Read more on:    cape town  |  crime

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