The Virginia Airport site. File picture: Brian Spurr
The Virginia Airport site. File picture: Brian Spurr

City forges ahead with Virginia Airport development plan

By Thami Magubane Time of article published Apr 9, 2021

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DURBAN - THE eThekwini Municipality has called on developers to present proposals for the planned redevelopment of the Virginia Airport site.

The municipality said last week it was forging ahead with the plan to redevelop the area in order to generate rates from it.

But any redevelopment of the site could face strong opposition from some of the tenants who have vowed not to move unless they are relocated to a new, suitable site.

During a council meeting last week, the eThekwini Municipality resolved to move forward with its plans and granted the head of catalytic projects permission to proceed.

It said public consultation meetings on the development had been held and that no objections had been recorded. One individual had requested information which had been provided.

The discussion on the issue at the meeting turned tense at times, with the ANC councillors describing those opposed to the development as “protecting white privilege”, and vowing that the land would be developed.

In the report, the city said it recommended “authority be granted for the head (of) Catalytic Project , in consultation with the Head of Real Estate, to advertise an expression of interest calling upon prospective developers to submit bids”.

It said studies had been conducted to look at the possible development of the site and the development was necessary as the municipality was no longer benefiting from the airport asset base and had to consider the declining rates base and investment climate in the city.

The report stated only two out of 20 operators at the site were opposed to the proposed redevelopment.

“It was advised that consideration will be given whether to explore relocating the airport, but this will depend on the availability of compelling economic reasons for such a development. Further consultation will be conducted should a decision be taken to relocate the airport.”

DA councillor Shontel de Boer, who was verbally threatened when she spoke on the matter at the council meeting, said high-density housing, hotels, a mixed-use commercial node, a theme park and even a motor sports venue were just some of the proposals being mooted for the Virginia Airport site.

She said the ramifications for the greater Durban North community were potentially huge – with the additional traffic, electricity and sewerage demands crippling an already compromised system.

“The relocation of the airport and its flight schools and operators seems to also be off the table, with officials first looking for ‘compelling economic reasons’ to fund relocation.

“What will happen to the emergency services helicopters that are fundamental in saving the lives of the citizens of eThekwini?

“The argument that the Virginia Airport is costing the city money is an absolute farce.

“This is evident in the millions which the ANC has spent on white elephants like the Moses Mabhida Stadium and uShaka Marine World,” she said.

ANC councillor Nkosenhle Madlala, said they were aware some operators at the airport had already told the city they did not want to move, or alternatively, that the city needed to cover the cost of relocation should it proceed with the development plan .

Madlala said the tenants were paying only 10% of what they should be paying and the municipality covered 90%.

“It’s costing council R5 million per annum toward management of the facility, and Air Traffic Navigation Services.

“In short, the city is getting no (money) from the use of the Virginia Airport site. Is this a viable business to maintain?”

Darryl Mann, owner of Aero Natal which operates at the site, said he would object to such plans unless a suitable relocation site was found and agreed upon.

He said the municipality had the responsibility to provide a home for general aviation.

“I can tell you now that the Virginia airport site will not be developed until such time as a new site has been found.

“The municipality is saying no one objected.

“How can we object when there is no platform to object, there has been zero consultation, nothing?” he asked.

THE MERCURY

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