Originally published in the Sunday Tribune on January 16.
The eThekwini Municipality’s plans to continue its planned revamp of Blue Lagoon and surrounding areas has come under severe criticism. Matthew Savides reports
Durban’s beachfront is a mess – and the eThekwini Municipality needs to deal with problems there before expanding the multimillion-rand upgrade north to the Mgeni River mouth.
This is the view of regular beachgoers, ratepayers’ organisations and even the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa) after an announcement this week that the municipality planned to continue its beachfront revamp, expanding it between the Moses Mabhida Stadium and Blue Lagoon. Already almost R250 million has been spent upgrading the promenade between the stadium and uShaka Marine World.
Several people and organisations told the Sunday Tribune this week that levels of policing, cleaning and general maintenance and upkeep had slipped since the city’s widely praised hosting of the World Cup.
Lisa Guastella wrote to the Sunday Tribune this week, saying: “eThekwini filled us with promises of how wonderful it would be. However, these promises appear to lie in tatters, just like the dying palm trees. The unsavoury elements are back, while the police presence has dwindled. The litter and pieces of glass have returned… and the smell of urine and defecation has also returned, particularly around the piers.
“And now to the future. eThekwini wishes to embark on phase two, to upgrade the northern beaches. Maybe they should concentrate on getting the existing section right first before over-extending themselves.”
According to a document issued by SSI Engineers and Environmental Consultants on the project, work would start towards the end of the year, in a continuation of the roughly R250m beachfront upgrade. The changes include moving the swimming pools from Laguna Beach to Blue Lagoon Beach, widening the promenade, building retail kiosks, improved lighting and adding parking lots.
The proposed upgrade covers a smaller area than the already completed revamp, which means it will probably cost considerably less – possibly about R100m.
Municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe said the extension was part of the original beachfront upgrade plan.
“The upgrade from uShaka to Blue Lagoon was part of the 2010 programme and project endorsed by the council years ago. The only difference is that we did the southern and central beaches first because of the money and time we had available before the World Cup.”
Sutcliffe said no cost estimates had been done because planning was still at an early stage.
Mike Lambert, CEO of the Three Cities Group, which owns a 40 percent share of the uShaka Marine World management company, said that the upgrade had been hugely beneficial for the theme park.
“We have had a record footfall at uShaka this December. More than 155 000 people came through. We’ve never had that.”
Regular beachfront user Paul Forbes said the upgrade would be nice, but that attention needed to be paid to the maintenance and upgrade of the southern and central beaches.
“They can go ahead with the upgrade, but really need to do something about the litter and upkeep of the beachfront.”
Clairwood Ratepayers’ Association chairman Rishi Singh supported the expansion, but said it should not hit ratepayers’ pockets or come at the expense of maintaining the beachfront.
“Our beaches have to be of a first-class standard if we want to attract tourists, so I think they (the municipality) can go ahead with this. But in saying that, we must be careful.
“We don’t want it to all be finished and then the council to tell us that rates are now going up. If they have the budget and it won’t hit ratepayers, then it’s fine.”
However, Errol Hicks, the founding chairman of the Combined Ratepayers’ Association of Durban, questioned whether the number of people who used the beach warranted the proposed spending there. He added the capital could be better spent on dealing with housing and other infrastructure in poorer areas of the city.
Ward councillor for the beachfront, Avril Coen of the DA, said she supported the proposed upgrade as the main revamp had greatly improved the area.
“Many of the problems associated with the beachfront, such as the broken bottles and so on, are at Blue Lagoon and Sunkist beach. Maybe with this upgrade these two areas will be improved. I jolly well hope so,” she said.
Coen said that she would like some more detail before giving her full approval of the plan, including whether work would be within 100m of the high tide line and exactly where and how the kiosks would operate.
Ravi Naidoo, speaking on behalf of tenants of the Banana Leaf restaurant at Blue Lagoon, supported the upgrade, but asked that the city consult tenants before going ahead with the plan.
“We lost out when the city decided to upgrade the area last year. The timing of that upgrading clashed directly with the period in which we hoped to make good trade because of the World Cup.
“This time around, there must be a consultation process to let us us know when the upgrade will begin, how long it would take until it is completed and there are other entry points to Blue Lagoon,” he said.
Fedhasa chairman Gerhard Patzer said that while the upgrade had been “very successful” he suggested that more attention needed to be paid to the Golden Mile before the project was expanded.
“A big problem is that there are shops standing empty – and that doesn’t look good. It makes the project look unsuccessful,” he said.
Sutcliffe said that the fact that some of the kiosks were still empty was not reason for concern. He said this first tender was “in hindsight, rushed”.
Also, some of the people and companies that put in tenders “were not really tested and didn’t have the finances in the bank” and the city did not want to take a risk on them.
Sutcliffe said the second phase of tenders for those facilities would go out soon and he expected a greater uptake.