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R6m spent on Berg cableway... and that’s just planning

Travel News

Durban - Even before the first pylon is hoisted, the proposed Drakensberg cable car project has cost KwaZulu-Natal almost R6-million.

This is according to a reply in the KZN Legislature to Ann McDonnell, the DA’s spokeswoman on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA).

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Tourists will be able to take the car from the proposed base station in the Mnweni valley, west of Bergville, to the summit station on Mount Amery in the Royal Natal National Park.

The proposal to build a cableway in KZN’s Okhahlamba region had been in the planning stages by the Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Department for several years.

Even before any final decisions have been made on whether to go ahead with the project, McDonnell said the figure was revealed in a written reply by MEC of EDTEA, Sihle Zikalala.

According to Zikalala, the department has spent the money on pre-feasibility studies since the idea was first mooted.

Earlier this year, a total of R1.035m was spent on an investment conference for various stakeholders. A further R3.6m has been budgeted for “base studies”.

In the written response, from Desmond Golding, head of EDTEA KZN, R1 147 752 has been spent on the pre-feasibility study and business plan.

Golding said the project was first conceptualised in 2005, through a feasibility study that was commissioned by the Development Bank of South Africa.

The first proposed site was not feasible for the development of a cable car. The idea was again presented during the KZN tourism master plan development in 2012, as a catalytic project with the aim of identifying a suitable site for the development.

Golding said the pre-feasibility study did not address key technical and regulatory questions relevant to applying for an environmental impact assessment.

He said the project had since been moved from Ithala Bank to the KwaZulu-Natal Property Development Holdings (KPDH), a subsidiary of Ithala, which will be commissioning all studies associated with the project.

The EIA has been put on hold and a full development of base technical and regulatory documents for the development of the Drakensberg cable car and related activities is being undertaken. The KPDH will finance the base studies for the project. An amount of R3.6m has been set aside.

He said R1m had been set aside for a conference to target investors, delegates from the tourism industry, city regions and state cities that have cable cars and specialists in business financing.

McDonnell asked whether the Cape Town Cable Car Company had been consulted, to which the department replied it they had done so separately, prior to the conference and inputs were provided, hence they were not invited to the conference.

“The cableway project has wasted precious time and money as it consistently pops back up - as a catalytic project - for the province.

“The fact that Okhahlamba is also KZN’s water factory and should be treated with kid gloves also seems to have been disregarded by the department,” McDonnell said.

“The DA is opposed to such frivolous expenditure that won’t create the jobs it ought to. There are far more pressing issues the department must deal with to fulfil its primary mandate - to create an environment conducive to job creation.”

To date, feasibility studies undertaken, along with numerous opinions on the sustainability of the project, had failed to provide proof of the viability of an expensive cableway and whether it would in fact appeal to tourists, both local and international, she said.

The site was remote with poor access roads, limited communications and accommodation. The entire infrastructure would have to be built in difficult terrain, she said.

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