Unhappy residents pack town hall

2011-08-22 00:00

THE sheer scale of the proposed Hilton/Mondi Development has caught Hilton residents unawares and is the basis of most of their objections. Many believe the development is introducing an element of urban sprawl to the area and that it does not fit in with the the uMngeni Municipality’s integrated development plan.

The plan proposes to develop the area as a tourism hub that would retain its country village ambience and rustic charm and be a gateway to the Midlands Meander.

The proposed development spreads over five nodes in the area between the Hilton and Cedara interchanges on either side of the N3. It covers the building of a light industrial area, office parks, a retail zone and a residential development.

Objectors learnt for the first time that the proposed shopping centre is almost the size of the Liberty Midlands Mall.

One objector said a mall covering 28 000 square metres is being built to serve the whole of Edendale, but the proposed development will be a 30 000 square metre complex to serve Hilton, which already has two shopping centres. He added that the proposed mall will be three times the size of the Quarry Shopping Centre.

As for the large amount of space for parking around the proposed mall, there was heated discussion when the packed Hilton town hall learnt that part of the area is being reserved for the development of a petrol station.

Guy Smith, developer of Garlington Estate, said the scale of the development is “over the top”. He said there is already an oversupply of office space in Pietermaritzburg and Hilton, yet this development proposes an office park that is the collective size of the Victoria Country Club office park, Cascades and the Sanctuary office park put together. He questioned whether the Pietermaritzburg/Hilton area needs another regional shopping centre the size of the Liberty Midlands Mall.

Many objectors felt that it would be more appropriate to have a light industrial area at the Merrivale interchange as this is closer to available labour than the proposed area. This was a concern of Mark Povall of the Department of Co-operative Governance, who said there must be a move away from commuters having to travel long distances from their homes to their workplace. He said the many studies conducted by the developers to inform the project are impressive.

Residents wanted to know about infrastructure upgrades given that the water, sewerage and electricity are already stretched to the limit.

Neels Brink, who spoke on behalf of the developers, said Eskom has already agreed to certain upgrades, as has the Umgungundlovu District Municipality.

Sipho Ndlovu of the economic development unit of the district municipality said it supports the project because it provides opportunities for job creation. He said the municipality has already obtained funding for the improvement of the bulk supply of water and to build a sewerage treatment plant in the area.

It is not clear whether the plant is linked to the development and whether there would be no sewerage plant if the development does not go ahead.

Interviewed afterwards, many objectors were unhappy, saying they believe more detail is needed on the development and that if more people had been aware of its scale, there would have been more objectors.

An interested party, Nora Choveaux, said no locality map was provided with the advert calling for objections, which was why there was so much confusion about the size of the development and where exactly the different nodes were located. She said the advert for objections was required to carry a locality map. She proposed that the objection procedure be re-advertised and the process reopened.

A QUESTION was raised during the public meeting about the role of Dumisani Vilakazi, the fired uMngeni municipal manager, in the proposed Hilton/Mondi development. The question remained unanswered.

The chairperson of the meeting and head of Umngeni Municipality’s development and planning department, Steve Simpson, said this was not for the public domain.

“I will address this with Mr Brink and the Council. It has nothing to do with the application,” he said.

uMngeni Democratic Alliance councillor Craig Muller, who asked the question, said there have been rumours that Vilakazi was a project manager on the development.

“I wanted to find out if this was indeed the case and what was the relationship between Vilakazi and the developer. I asked what his involvement was in the project and what skills he brought to it.”

The Witness approached Vilakazi, who was at the meeting, but he said he was out of the hall when the question was posed so could not answer it.

He said he was present at the meeting because he was interested in development.

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