Battle for the prime beach erupts

2017-07-18 18:47
Durban beachfront. (Supplied)

Durban beachfront. (Supplied)

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Durban - The battle over one of Durban's unspoilt beaches is about to erupt again.

On the one side is the Durban Point Development Company - jointly owned by the eThekwini Municipality and a Malaysian consortium UEM Sunrise - which wants to put up a multi-billion rand high-rise development at the southern-most end of the city's "Golden Mile" near the harbour mouth.

Squaring up on the other side, are some of the water sports clubs which have held "prime position" in front of the beach for decades.

The beach itself is open to all, but direct access is restricted because of a members-only parking policy of the clubs, Durban Undersea Club, Point Yacht Club, Durban Ski-boat Club and the Durban Paddle-ski Club.

The Paddle-ski Club - the smallest of them all with only 400-odd members - has so far led the charge, and won significant victories through its former chair, Johnny Vassilaros, who formed the Save Vetch's Association.

"It was formed with one purpose only - to save the beach and the reef. And that was what it did," he told News24.

READ: Another lifeline for Durban's Point development

Agreement

Vassilaros was referring to a court case - which is said to have cost about R1m in legal fees - the association and his club launched in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban to stop the construction of a small craft harbour and marina which he said, would have meant "pouring concrete onto the reef and the beach".

Judgment in the matter was never handed down. But it prompted negotiations which led to an agreement, signed with the association and paddle-ski club in 2012, in which the company abandoned its small craft harbour plan.

The provisions of a previous agreement - signed by the other three clubs in 2008 - were incorporated into the latest deal, Vassilaros said.

Those were that the clubs would all become members of an umbrella Point Watersports Clubs (PWC) body under which they would operate with autonomy. And they would be given a new site, under a new promenade, at a reduced price of R877 000, freehold.

The developer has now given the clubs until August 8 to vacate their premises and move to a temporary structure closer to the harbour mouth.

Vassilaros said the deal has now changed and the developer is now demanding a rental of R108 000 a month. Friction between the clubs is mounting.

The developers have given the clubs - except the paddle-ski club - new leases. So far only the Durban Undersea Club has signed.

Indications are that the club would not move.

Ernie Hovelmeier, the chair of the paddle-ski club, said:"We will continue to dispute any actions by the developer through our legal team," he said.

No tender advertised

The latest plan for the area involves a high rise development.

"We don't care about what happens behind us… we are not anti-development. The association just wants to preserve the beach and preserve our sports," said Vassilaros.

"In the meantime,there are approved plans but there are no plans for the clubhouse underneath it. We need assurances that they won't build below the erosion line and that we can use the entire beach to launch our various craft which we have not got."

On top of this, he said, so far there has been no tender advertised for the construction of the promenade, no plans submitted for the new clubhouse and no demolition orders sought for the existing structures.

There are real concerns about the siting of the new promenade.

In an email to interested parties, a marine biologist said he understood that the promenade and the proposed club was in a high-risk coastal zone, deemed a "no-go area" for development.

"The developers will say that sand pumping will maintain the beach and protect the promenade... but this is in the hands of Portnet which is already having difficulties with their dredging operations," he said.

"Insurers will not cover new property being built in such high risk zones. Purchasers and new owners need to be aware of the potential consequences."

'Bickering'

The new temporary structure is also not ready for the clubs to move into it.

Vassilaros said: "My fear is that we will be pushed into the corner in a temporary structure with no time frames on how long we must stay there and that we will be just left there. Why do we have to move now?

"I believe the clubs - and the sports - are under serious threat."

He said if the company did not honour the 2008 and 2012 agreements, the association would go back to court for breach of contract and stop the company from evicting the clubs.

In the meantime there is internal "bickering" between the clubs over how the umbrella body is to be structured and "who will run the show".

Point Yacht Club Commodore, Craig Millar, took to YouTube on Monday, posting a video message alleging that a not for profit company had been formed by six members of the undersea and ski-boat clubs.

After threats of litigation, the yacht club was now represented on the board. But the four founding directors were claiming this was now more than an "umbrella body" and the individual clubs would cease to exist in the future.

He said the directors had made it "very clear" that a directorship was not open to anyone from the paddle-ski club and that they did not have to adhere to the 2008 and 2012 agreements which provided for the clubs to exist autonomously under the umbrella body.

"We are opposed to all of this and have taken it to arbitration," he said.

"It is indeed sad to see these clubs bickering over such issues, instead of appreciating the beach that we - the association and the paddle ski club - saved for them and get on with one another as they have done for decades," Vassilaros said.

The municipality declined to comment, referring queries to the company. When contacted, the receptionist said there was no-one to deal with media inquiries saying: "We only speak to the media when we have something to say…"

Read more on:    durban  |  environment

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