City to lease ‘last land’

2017-04-25 14:00
The old polocrosse fields, the fastest growing commercial sector of the city and one of the last remaining large pieces¬ of valuable land owned by the municipality in the city.

The old polocrosse fields, the fastest growing commercial sector of the city and one of the last remaining large pieces¬ of valuable land owned by the municipality in the city. (GoogleMaps)

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The old polocrosse fields, arguably the most valuable development land in Pieter­maritzburg, will not be sold, but developers can develop on the land in an equity partnership with the municipality.

This was according to Dr Ray Ngcobo, Msunduzi general manager of Sustainable Development and City Entities, who has provided details of the city’s plans for the controversial land.

The land, situated in the fastest growing commercial sector of the city and one of the last remaining large pieces­ of valuable land owned by the municipality in the city, was initially put up for sale.

But the municipality terminated the tender late last year after allegations of corruption surfaced in the tender process.

Since then The Witness and municipality have received persistent inquiries about the future of the land, and whether it will again come up for sale.

Some of the tenderers have also complained they have been kept in the dark about the future of the land.

Dr Ngcobo provided reasons why the municipality decided not to proceed with the land sale last year.

Firstly, after municipal offices were raided by police when the corruption allegations surfaced, the police had seized all the city’s documentation relating to the polocrosse fields tender.

Not all the documents were returned to the municipality by the police, some were returned only later, and it was impossible to proceed with the tender, said Ngcobo.

In addition, all the main tenderers had viewed each other’s tender documents, so the municipality feared being caught up in legal action, as losing bidders might have tried to legally challenge a winning tender, thereby preventing the development from being allowed to proceed.

In addition, said Ngcobo, the municipality feared a legal challenge after such a tender award, as the City would have been hard-pressed to provide bulk services, including water and electricity, for the polocrosse field development.

This was because it also had to provide bulk services for the Liberty Mall expansion, the proposed provincial government office precinct nearby, and the development of the Dorpspruit social housing project.

Ngcobo said that the city was already in discussions with the provincial government about putting in a new electrical transformer to provide additional electrical capacity for these developments.

He said the City decided on the public-private-partnership route because the land was one of the last pieces of “strategic land”, that the City owned.

“We do not want to be in a position, 100 years from now, where the municipality does not own any land,” said Ngcobo.

The intention was for Msunduzi to retain control of the land, with a long lease, perhaps even up to 100 years, and bulk services agreements, providing some elements of the equity for the city to be a partner in the development of the land.

He said the city had also already received plans for the construction of the R500 million government office precinct.

The polocrosse fields, the government office precinct and the Liberty Mall expansion would all comprise one development node in the city, said Ngcobo.

The city was at present sorting out the supply chain procedures and negotiations with other government departments in order to embark on the public-private participation development plan, he said.

“We want to fast-track the polo fields,” said Ngcobo, adding that the City would only enter into a development with a property development company that had a solid background in commercial property development.

Democratic Alliance councillor Bill Lambert said it was news to him that the previous tender process had been halted, but there was little doubt the City badly needed new development, and the polocrosse fields was the best site for that.

“Its the best development land in the city,” he said.

A spokesperson for one of the previous tendering consortiums, who chose to remain unnamed, said they were disappointed about the new plans, “because we didn’t get that far with the tendering process, with all the associated costs, for somebody to do a U-turn on us. There may be consequences.”

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said “we need to get a move on” with the development of the polocrosse site, because “we need to see cranes in the sky again in Pietermaritzburg”.

She said she was still unclear why the previous extensive tender process had not been concluded with a successful award, as the tenders had been prepared at significant cost.


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