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A Cape storm is brewing

The city’s battle to accommodate urban sprawl and protect agricultural land.

Rapid population growth in the Western Cape as tens of thousands of unemployed migrants enter the city from the Eastern Cape and neighbouring countries is exacerbating shortages of land for development in the city.

The resulting urban sprawl, which encroaches on arable land, limits the opportunity for long-term sustainable solutions – such as the development of housing closer to the workplace.

The City of Cape Town’s population expanded from 2.9 million in 2001 to 3.7 million in 2011, and although it has a relatively low population density relative to other major SA cities, access to vacant land available for development remains the biggest challenge.

Recent messy events in Cape Town relating to service delivery brings renewed focus to the issue of land shortage as one cause of poor living conditions in parts of the city.

While tension grows over the rights and wrongs of the essential process of public participation with regard to urban development, both at political and resident association levels, the city’s invitation to partner with private owners of land in excess of 15 hectares, has largely gone unnoticed.

The project

Named the Private Sector Engagement and Co-operation Project, this offer from the city to private industry expires at the end of August. Property owners have an opportunity to partner with government to develop the land into integrated human settlements comprising, among others, residential accommodation for the lower-to-middle end of the income spectrum.

The role of the City will be to establish ways to accelerate project delivery, possibly through the provision of subsidy housing, funds for infrastructure and reticulation services, and top structures.

This is in addition to tax incentives available to private industry within the framework of the Cape Town Urban Development Zone.

It would, at the very least, extend the concept of a ‘live, work, play’ lifestyle also across poorer communities. Industry players willing to part with land or develop it alongside one of the government incentive programmes will increase employment opportunities while boosting bottom line earnings. Most retail and corporate investment banks are heeding government’s call for more housing.

The dilema

Where projects are underway, co-operation and communication remain problematic.

Recent events in the Philippi Horticultural Area illustrate this point. Here a private property development initiative has been portrayed as a threat to small farmers. What remains unknown, is that many small farmers want to sell out as the mushrooming of informal settlements and the inevitable population densification have already caused environmental harm in the area.

The city’s dilemma is that it needs to both protect agricultural land that produces about half of the fresh vegetables consumed in Cape Town, and to support sustainable human settlement.

The City also needs to prevent the threat of urban sprawl. While some developers of large scale settlements have shown a disregard for the protection of the city’s urban edges, building houses far from the city centre ignores the economic impact on residents living far away from their workplaces.

In the case of communiTgrow’s Wescape project, which has identified the West Coast Growth Corridor north-west of Cape Town as an ‘ideal residential location’ for 200 000 houses, both these issues have been overlooked.

Launched as the flagship project of the private sector urban development company, Wescape ‘will be providing solutions to many of the Metropole’s economic expansion requirements including a 20-year plan for education, housing and health.’ Specific reference is made to ‘all necessary educational and healthcare facilities, employment opportunities and community facilities and services enable people to learn, live and grow in a healthy, self-sustaining community.’

In addition to a disregard for urban development frameworks, this proposal for the building of a mini city on the urban edges of an existing city has ignored tried and tested economic housing solutions of the past.

The good news is that there is a lot of work being done to solve Cape Town’s housing shortage. The bad news is that current proposals all fall short in one way or another.

*Anna-Marie Smith’s work as a freelance property writer since 2006 followed a career in the corporate service industry after studying Communications at Unisa. She changed direction from financial communications to writing for property publications, with an interest in sustainable residential and commercial development. She writes for Business Day HomeFront, Property Professional Magazine, PrivateProperty.co.za and Earthworks Magazine.

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