Mercury Editorial - 7 December 2012

Point made…

AT LONG last, the bruising Battle of Vetch’s Pier is at an end. The settlement agreement announced this week is undoubtedly a victory for Durban, for development and the citizens who mounted a brave and spirited campaign to safeguard a popular recreation space from unbridled development.

All the parties – the city, developers, water sports clubs, conservation and citizen groups – have made compromises to a lesser or greater degree, so the final result may not please everyone.

It’s just a pity that the Durban Point Development Company failed to see the writing on the wall much earlier, or to address the legitimate concerns of critics.

Though the city and developers sought to bully and portray the more vocal opponents as a tiny minority of “obstructionists”, it may be just as well for the proponents that all the dirty linen and evidence of high-level political interference in the environmental authorisation process will no longer be aired in court.

The findings of an independent social impact assessment were brushed aside, the draft recommendations of senior environmental officials were replaced with a more developer-friendly solution, and there was also evidence of interference by a shadowy figure from the premier’s office.

But in the end the global economic downturn, the spiralling cost of litigation and the more recent intervention of cooler heads all helped to draw hostilities to an end and to bring about a new plan that most parties can live with.

Now that agreement has been struck, it’s time to move on from brinkmanship and recrimination to ensure the success of a major development project which promises to rejuvenate the harbour mouth and Point precinct.

Under the new agreement, the parties have committed themselves to support the new development, which protects Vetch’s Reef and most of the beach from construction, but also creates space for a new iconic and world-class development.

Durban residents will no doubt embrace this opportunity to remodel a dilapidated public space, preserving the unique features of Vetch’s Pier while creating new amenities designed to put our city back on the map.