City to push for Vetch’s project

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Copy of ns beachfront 44 INLSA Durban Beach Front. Picture: Terry Haywood

The eThekwini Municipality is expected to push for the controversial leasing of a portion of Vetch’s beach to go through despite pending legal challenges and threats of more court action.

A report on the 99-year lease – which would pave the way for a multibillion-rand development, including a five-star hotel, luxury flats, shops and a new yacht marina – was set to be tabled before the municipality’s executive committee at a meeting on Wednesday.

The report, signed by the city’s head of treasury, the head of the legal unit and by the head of real estate, recommends that the city enter into a 99-year lease agreement with the national Department of Transport at a total rental of R99 000, payable in one sum.

The lease could be renewed for a further 99 years.

The lease would allow developments to go through and the city could sub-lease part of the beach.

Opposition parties have warned the city not to ignore pending legal challenges by “ramming through” the development and the lease.

Minority Front councillor Patrick Pillay said that while it was clear that the city wanted to go ahead, such a move may prove to be suicidal on the council’s part.

“There are still pending court actions and we cannot go into a development until all the legal avenues have been exhausted by the aggrieved parties, because that might come back to haunt us,” he said.

The DA’s Tex Collins, said his party was “100 percent” opposed to the Vetch’s development. “There is no way we can ignore these legal challenges… especially because at the moment, the city is losing more cases than it is winning.”

In 2010, the Save Vetch’s Association (SVA) launched two court challenges.

The first was to contest environmental approval of the development. The group also sought to set aside the developer’s boundaries or high-water mark in the second application.

The two matters are still pending, but the SVA threatened yesterday that it would mount another challenge if the lease was approved.

But the SVA and the DA argue that the minister of transport did not have the authority to lease the seabed.

The city’s application to Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele was based on the minister having the power to issue the lease in terms of the Seashore Act of 1935.

Opposing parties said that only the minister of water and environmental affairs has the authority to lease the sea, the seabed and the seashore. This is based on the Integrated Management Act of 2008, which also limits the period of a lease to 20 years.

Collins said that when two acts were in conflict, the newer one should prevail.

But in a letter to Ndebele dated August 2009, written by the then municipal manager, Mike Sutcliffe, the city said it had been advised by the KZN Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs that the land and sea in question did not fall within its jurisdiction and that only the minister of transport could conclude the lease.

The lawyer representing the SVA, Michael Jackson, was adamant that the leasing of the area by the transport minister would be illegal.

Collins said that the DA believed the sea, the seabed and the seashore belonged to all South Africans. He argued that if the development was allowed, the area would be exclusive – one for the enjoyment of the “obscenely rich”, while ratepayers would pick up the tab for developments.

He said his partly believed that no development should take place below the high-water mark, warning that any development below that would not be sustainable.

The city said the proposed development would not only attract about R4 billion in private investment, but would also create about 5 000 permanent and 6 000 temporary jobs. - Daily News

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