When the public and private sectors work together, communities thrive
Coordinated public investment in public and economic infrastructure can transform township economies and catalyse private sector investment.
This was emphasised in former finance minister Malusi Gigaba’s 2018 Budget speech when he referred to the Bridge City hub, north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, as an example of a successful public-private partnership leading to social and economic transformation.
At Tongaat Hulett, we are proud of the Bridge City precinct and what our collaboration with the eThekwini municipality and provincial authorities is achieving, but this is only one of several developments achieving significant upliftment through urban planning and the mobilisation of private capital.
At its heart, the nature of a mixed-use development is one of the single most transforming, uplifting, empowering, innovative, opportunity-creating and value-producing basic urban principles.
When we speak of mixed-use property developments, we are referring to “mixed” in a much broader context than the conventional one of residential, commercial and retail. Given the scale of the projects at Tongaat Hulett, we look at the variability across occupants, pricing, products and ownership structures.
We are in a unique position to work to the benefit of all stakeholders. But key to this is to work with the local authorities. eThekwini has a land-use spatial framework and we collaborate with the municipality and other authorities to achieve the best possible use of land for the benefit of the broader Durban and KwaZulu-Natal community.
Tying all aspects of land use together is critical and can only be done holistically. For example, eThekwini’s Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network (IRPTN) plan – under the GO!Durban brand – is creating links across the greater metropolitan region along nine key corridors and via feeder routes. By 2030 the city will be completely transformed with interconnected stations, roads, bus and rail lines.
Add to this the massive infrastructure development taking place, including bulk service supply such as water and sanitation, and the need is clear for an integrated city-wide framework.
Our planning philosophy is the complete antithesis of apartheid planning. Under the previous regime, Bridge City was a segregated area with a single access point, deliberately designed to exclude. Today it is a growing transport and business hub that explicitly links communities. This is not unique in our developments. Cornubia, for example, is equally aimed at tying the urban knot.
If you study the history of cities, the reason they exist is to bring people together for social and commercial interaction. Being closer and being linked to other urban areas improves and enhances the lives of the people in these communities.
We believe in integration and proximity rather than segregation, as we work towards overcoming the apartheid era of spatial exclusion as seen in dormitory towns with daily commutes to work and retail facilities. This creates vast benefits for communities in more wholesome environments with greater access to job opportunities and urban amenities. Beyond the need for privacy and ownership of their own dwellings, people need thriving, high-quality public spaces, parks and streets.
How can an investor get involved in our vision and help empower and enhance South African communities?
Take a long-term view: A fundamental element is to look at the long-term picture. Our developments are decades in the making. Gateway Theatre of Shopping, for example, represented highly interventionist thinking when it was developed in the late 1990s, based on a bold new concept that has proved successful.
Consider what you aim to achieve: Look at the big picture, and think as broadly and as strategically as you can. If you had the opportunity, without any of the usual business constraints, what would your business concept be? Then test that against the development framework and see where innovation can take you.
Spatial framework: Look for a region or municipality that has a well-thought-out spatial framework as this can give an investor confidence for 20 years. With strategically driven urban planning, much of the risk is removed for investors. To invest in a region where there is a developmental framework in place, this significantly reduces investment risk.
Collaborate with key stakeholders: One of our aims at Tongaat Hulett Developments is to de-risk local investment. Our vision at Bridge City is to create a dynamic, harmonious and well-balanced city precinct of the highest aesthetic, landscape and urban design. Through the establishment of a management association, the precinct is well managed and has flourishing, safe open spaces and a strong, sustainable programme, which results in a more certain investment environment.
It is not surprising that the North-South Durban Rail Corridor is proving to be one of the investment hotspots in the country. Land is the catalyst for change. With eThekwini creating the framework and Tongaat Hulett facilitating the development, the ball can move to the developers’ court.
Reviving township economies and linking them back into the urban system is essential to transform SA. Changing their essence from isolated dormitory towns to vibrant, thriving communities for social and commercial enterprise will reverse past ills and lead to greater prosperity for all.