Duban - New plans for the Durban Point Waterfront have raised fears that soaring “Dubai-style” skyscrapers may wreck the character of the city’s most popular watersport beach.
While the Malaysian-led investors are designing a new water sports club beneath an 8m high public promenade at Vetch’s Pier, they have made it clear that there will no longer be space to store ski boats, Hobie Cats and other large vessels next to the water.
There are also fears that “crass commercialism” and densification of hotel, retail and office towers up to 55-storeys-high could destroy the ethos of an affordable, family-based venue for open-air relaxation.
At a public meeting on Friday, Kuala Lumpur-based UEM Sunrise and Australian-based Cox Architecture outlined development plans modelled partly on schemes in Miami, Cannes, Copa Cabana and Surfers Paradise in Australia.
These were hailed by Durban Growth Coalition member Andrzej Kiepiela, former city architect Jonathan Edkins and SA Property Owners Association representative Rory Wilkinson, but several water sports enthusiasts have expressed scepticism or outright opposition.
The Point Watersports Club (jointly representing the Durban Undersea Club, the Durban Ski Boat Club and the Point Yacht Club) was confident the development would create “a better, sportier club” with secure tenure, but several individual members have major misgivings. After a club report-back meeting last Friday, sailor Robin Rabec said it was clear there would no longer be space to store large boats at the club.
“I’ve been a member for 40 years and now it seems I have to give up sailing because there won’t be anywhere to store my Hobie Cat. The same seems to apply to ski boat owners who have parking bays there.
“It’s very unfair. You can’t tell the guys they must just give up their sports. We are being told ‘take your boats and waai’.
“What will this new club be? Will it be a club for tourists staying in five-star hotels or will it be for local sportsmen? What we have seen is a Dubai-style waterfront plan, and we are not sure who will control it.
“My concern is that if the club rents the premises we are there at the behest of council. Look what happened at Virginia Airport. When they get tired of you, they just hoof you.”
Yachtsman and city councillor Warren Burne said he hoped the water sport clubs were genuinely happy about the proposals, rather than simply “having to go along with it”. He was also concerned about practicalities, such as sufficient space to park and manoeuvre trailers and boats with tall sails.
Malcolm Keeping was concerned the atmosphere of the clubs would change, no longer providing affordable access to “simple open-air relaxation, socialising and unhindered access to a fantastic part our beachfront”.
Karin Solomon, who set up the SOS Durban website (saveoursunshinedurban.co.za), asked why the Durban Paddle Ski Club was excluded from negotiations.
“If it had not been for this brave club, the public would no longer have access to a large portion of the beach at Vetch’s.”
UEM Sunrise spokesman Soban Bevarah said the new club was “fully engaged” and endorsed the plans because “we want to make sure it works for them”. Bevarah said boats would be trailered to the beach by tractor. Thereafter, “they go back to their own place”.
Asked where this place was, Bevarah said: “You are an environmental journalist. Why are you asking questions about boats instead of the environment?”
When the question was repeated, Bevarah said: “Their homes … We are not providing boat parking.”
Point Watersports Club chairman Cuane Hall said he was not sure why parking and boat storage was at issue, but requested members with specific concerns to approach the club for clarity.
“The club is not just sailing or boating. It combines all water sport disciplines. There was never any discussion of building boat shelters on the premises because it was physically impossible. Everyone was well aware from the first discussions 15 years ago that boat sheds would become a thing of the past.”
The new club would be 180m long, 30m wide and 8m high.
“Our whole ethos is to make sure members can still enjoy the same standard. Nothing changes, except they get a better, sportier club and (long-term) tenure.”
On concern that the club would be swamped by hotel tourists, Hall said: “No, we are not going to be overrun. The ethos is that it’s a Durban-based water sports club. I’ve been a member for 30 years and chairman of DUC (the Durban Undersea Club) for nine years. My kids grew up there and it’s my passion.”
On why Durban Paddle Ski Club leaders had been excluded from negotiations, Hall said paddle skiers were welcome to join the new club - but it would not offer a directorship to former Paddle Ski Club chairman Johnny Vassilaros. “There was no way Johnny could go from an adversarial role to becoming a board member,” he said.