DBN airport in PMB?

2015-05-08 09:31
Shaun Ryley, the Democratic Alliance ward councillor for Durban North holds the Virginia Airport report which recommended the municipal airport move to Pietermaritzburg.

Shaun Ryley, the Democratic Alliance ward councillor for Durban North holds the Virginia Airport report which recommended the municipal airport move to Pietermaritzburg. (Jonathan Erasmus)

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WHILE eThekwini Metro has agreed to move its city airport to Scottburgh, a detailed report has revealed that Pietermaritzburg was deemed a better option.

The report, released to Durban North councillor Shaun Ryley by city officials 10 months after he initially asked for it, has revealed that moving the general aviation airport to Pietermaritzburg’s existing airport would have been more cost effective.

The 200-page report, of which the The Witness has seen, was compiled by consulting firm Royal Haskoning DHV. The more than 50-year-old airport is currently based in the upmarket Durban North suburb along prime coastal real estate. The document said moving Virginia Airport and its tenants to Pietermaritzburg was “technically viable” but that the Virginia tenants believed it was “too far away”.

But the counter argument in the report was that the one-hour travel was not a severe constraint to prospective general aviation clients.

The report said relocating to Pietermaritzburg would “not be a popular choice” but that it was a “strong and cost effective option”.

In December a full council voted on the relocation of the airport to Scottburgh which is currently just a dirt track used by crop-sprayers.

The city voted that the operators would be given leases for three years, after which they will be expected to move.

Out of the seven possible alternative sites chosen for the relocation, Pietermaritzburg scored second only to Dube TradePort followed by Scottburgh.

Scottburgh was, according to the report, seen as a “compromise” due to its proximity to Durban and the possibility to develop a mini-aero city on the south coast.

The airport’s 29 ha land of which just over nine hectare can be developed, without its assets, is estimated to have a value of R40 million but the likely spin-offs of retail and residential development would be several hundred million rand.

The relocation of all the airport infrastructure has been estimated to cost in excess of R1 billion.

Ryley said his obtaining the report was a victory for the DA’s ability to hold the city to account. Both the DA and The Witness had Promotion of Access to Information Act requests for the report rejected in December.

Ryley said he subsequently used the council’s privilege to force the city manager to hand over the report.

Ryley said the council’s decision to move the airport was done without clear consultation with the airport’s operators and in bad faith.

“In 2011 the city agreed to a 10-year lease and then reneged on the deal. My promise to the operators was to obtain the document. It is their responsibility on what they choose to do with it and if they want to take court action,” said Ryley.

He said the party was not against or for the relocation of the airport but believed the decision should have been taken in a more transparent manner.

“The council took this massive decision to move the airport based on a two-page summary of the report by the office of the city manager. More information should have been put out into the public domain beforehand,” said Ryley

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