Durban has unveiled a major master plan that could transform the shape and nature of the city for decades to come.

The new space-development vision, which constitutes one of the most fundamental transformations in the city's recent planning history, was published in draft form for public comment last week and is likely to spark vigorous debate.

It focuses on the southern section of the city and advocates a massive industrial expansion zone on the present Durban International Airport site, coupled with significant alterations to the road and traffic network.

The plan comes amid growing indications that the national government will facilitate the rapid establishment of a new international airport north of the city, in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

If it is approved, the proposal would also transform the appearance of Durban Bay, where a towering "unity bridge" would cross over the harbour waters to link up with the central business district.

Prepared by the private consultancy firm Iyer Rothaug and the eThekwini Development and Planning unit, the spatial master plan attempts to untangle decades of conflict, piecemeal planning and the uneasy juxtaposition of industry and residential communities.

While it is likely to be welcomed by several commercial interests, it has already raised concerns for residential communities opposed to toxic pollution zones on their doorsteps.

Local community leader and environmental watchdog Bobby Peek was cautious about the full implications of the plan until he had studied it in detail - but he said the decision to publish the planning document was a major victory for communities that had been demanding clarity about the future plans for their area. "(Now) people will have to make their voices heard very clearly," he said.

The spatial outline earmarks the present international airport land for "large-scale manufacturing", although the exact nature or type of expansion is not defined in the public documents, which were distributed to public libraries last week.

Puven Akkiah, a spatial development and land-use manager at the eThekwini council, said the intention was to outline broad development concepts rather than specific details at this stage - but any new industrial development would have to comply with strict environmental controls because of the long-standing conflicts caused by industrial pollution.

Akkiah said that with the exception of the "barracks" (the run-down rows of prefabricated houses at the corner of Tara and Duranta roads in Austerville), there were no proposals for compulsory relocation of any residential communities.

"We understand that relocation is a very sensitive and contentious issue, and that people have strong roots and associations to suburbs and communities."

One of the most significant infrastructural changes in the new plan is a major road artery from the present airport site to reduce traffic bottlenecks and create quicker transport links to the import/export harbour hub. By rerouting industrial transport to the new road, it was hoped to restrict movement along Tara Road to residential traffic.

Clairwood Racecourse could also disappear, divided almost equally between industrial use on one side, and the other zoned for a new recreation/park zone with broad public access. A new road would cut the race-course in half to create a new transport feeder road to the N2 freeway.

Significantly, there is no indication of the much-talked-about "dig-out harbour" proposal, either in the Bayhead area or adjacent to the Sapref petrol refinery. It is also silent about previous proposals to create a new petro-chemical hub.

However, a new canal has been proposed to bisect the land between the airport site and the country's biggest refinery (the Sapref facility owned by Shell and BP).

According to Akkiah, the intention of the new "relief canal" is to reduce the risk of flooding in the former swampland, which was reclaimed in the early 1950s to create the international airport.

According to a 170-page document prepared by Nathan Iyer, a private spatial development consultant, the proposals could form the basis of a common vision to map out the future development of the south Durban basin.

He said that despite its status as the major port city of Southern Africa and the second biggest industrial manufacturing centre in the country, the area had not grown over the past five years.

He suggested the plan could help to resolve environmental conflicts and also secure major public funding for infrastructure and economic growth.

It also calls for a rationalisation of port services and better rail transport links for commuters and goods.

Train stations should also be redeveloped to support commercial, retail and residential land uses.

A spokesperson for the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry could not be reached for comment, but residential community groups have raised several concerns.

"We welcome economic growth - but it must be clean and provide sustainable and permanent new jobs," said Desmond D'Sa, chairperson of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance.

Merebank community leader Rajah Naidoo felt the city should not look automatically to heavy industry. "Parts of the south basin would be ideal to create a major new waterfront drawcard," he said.

  • Information is available from Puven Akkiah. Telephone 031 300 2178 or email The Mercury on January 03, 2005