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.

Mercury front page - 6 December 2012

Vetch’s peace deal

Tony Carnie and Tania Broughton 

AFTER a decade of bruising legal skirmishes and heated public debate, developers and opponents of the controversial Durban Point waterfront development have smoked the peace pipe and reached a compromise deal to develop a revised multimillion waterfront development next to Vetch’s Pier.

The breakthrough was announced yesterday after the Durban Point Development Company, the Save Vetch’s Association and the Durban Paddle Ski Club signed a new legal agreement after months of hush-hush negotiations.

The agreement allows for a new “iconic” hotel and waterfront development at the mouth of Durban harbour, but prevents any development on Vetch’s Pier reef and preserves most of the sandy beachfront.

“It’s been a long battle, but I think we’ve done a bloody good job against such powerful odds in reaching a compromise to save Vetch’s for the benefit of the people of Durban, and also to allow development to continue,” said Durban Paddleski Club chairman Johnny Vassilaros.

The club’s members had their boats and club furniture confiscated by the developers earlier this year when they refused to budge from their clubhouse in the aftermath of a series of legal battles.

“We had to endure many sacrifices and spent almost R2 million to oppose the unnecessary attempts to evict us from the beach,” he said.

Though maps show that the shape and size of the original development has been scaled down significantly, Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Andrew Layman hailed the agreement as “excellent news” and commended the parties for settling their differences.

“The city needs development at the Point as a matter of urgency. The chamber believes that development in what might be called the old or inner city is very important to ensure that development in more peripheral areas does not dominate to the extent that the inner city reflects serious urban decay through neglect,” said.

“The Point precinct offers great residential and commercial opportunities and I think the removal of the most serious of obstacles will allow these to be exploited.”

Save Vetch’s Association spokesman Chris Sutton said: “Our objective all along was to save the beach and to save Vetch’s reef. We had to compromise and they had to compromise but we have achieved our objective in reaching an agreement which keeps alive the essence and tranquillity of one of the most unique beaches and family recreation areas in South Africa.”


Asked why the dispute had not been settled earlier, Sutton said he doubted there would have been so much opposition if the development company had agreed to similar compromises 10 years ago.

Development company spokesman Neels Brink said it was difficult to say when construction would start as there were still some rezoning and environmental processes to be resolved following the revision of the original plan – but he hoped that outstanding procedures could be resolved “in the course of next year”.

“The citizens of Durban can now look forward to an iconic, worldclass waterfront, while still enjoying a beach they have frequented and enjoyed for decades,” Brink said in a statement issued jointly by the development company, Save Vetch’s and the Durban Paddleski Club.

As part of the agreement, Save Vetch’s and the paddleski club have agreed to withdraw all high court legal action against the company in exchange for allowing development to continue according to the new settlement.

Further details are due to be outlined this weekend to members of the Point Watersports Clubs – the Durban Ski Boat Club, Durban Undersea Club and Point Yacht Club.

The watersport clubs (except Durban Paddleski Club) agreed originally to move into a new joint clubhouse at the base of the new North Pier. In terms of the revised plan, the new joint clubhouse would now be located directly at the base of Vetch’s Pier and members would be able to launch their boats directly from the beach. The plan also preserves more than 200m of beach which would have been covered in concrete under the old proposals.

Durban Paddleski Club members would be allowed to join this club, which aimed to introduce a new “flexible subscription structure” to accommodate different water users and ensure the facility was accessible to the public.

Faced with a plethora of legal challenges and a downturn in economic conditions, it is believed the development company began revising its plan about two years ago.

A legal source close to the negotiations said the settlement talks became more urgent earlier this year, when the development company seized paddleskis belonging to club members to recover about R266 000 in legal costs it claimed it was owed after a successful court application to evict the club.

 “Things were such a mess and there was a strong sense that something needed to be done. The club’s attorney, Michael Jackson, and development company board member Tutu Mnganga (an advocate) knew each other and were persuasive in cooling things down.”