Student digs debate

JON HOUZET
CONCERNS over student accommodation developments featured large in a public Spatial Development Framework (SDF) meeting at the Port Alfred Civic Centre last week.
 
Ndlambe’s SDF has come up for review – a statutory requirement every five years. Port Elizabeth-based Metroplan Town and Regional Planning has been appointed by the department of rural development and land reform to conduct the review.
 
Every municipality is required to have an SDF, as part of its Integrated Development Plan, to inform land use, economic regeneration, tourism and environmental resource use, infrastructure needs and basic needs.
 
For the current review, meetings have been held throughout Ndlambe to fulfill the required public participation process. But a meeting on the SDF at Jauka Hall in Nemato was called off last Thursday because councillors were unable to attend.
 
The meeting at the Civic Centre was poorly attended by a handful of residents, but those who came were vocal in their concerns.
 
“I thought when we bought our house it was next to a greenbelt,” said Hards Street resident Chris Day.
“Now there are proposed hostels,” he said, in reference to the proposed Anchor Village, which is being marketed as an investment opportunity to rent accommodation to Stenden students. The developers propose to build 10 three-storey apartment blocks comprising 120 units in total.
 
“It’s easy to target a dune forest which is zoned residential – but there’s no houses there,” said Day. “A purposefully built university with proper accommodation should be part of the plan rather than what amounts to sprawl into green areas.”
 
One of the aims of the Development Facilitation Act is to promote densification of towns and cities rather than urban sprawl.
 
But Aiden Norden, of FD Theron Architects, said: “Densifying certain areas you could ruin the character, the visual impact of a town.” He referred to the student accommodation issue as an example.
 
Norden was echoed by fellow architect Hendri Frankenfeld, who contrasted the strategic planning for Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth with “Grand Hotel suddenly becoming a university (Stenden) in a residential area”.
 
“Now there’s a problem having to accommodate a whole new lifestyle that nobody planned. It’s happened in a haphazard way,” said Frankenfeld.
 
“These are probably quite serious issues. There’s no other land to accommodate a university.”
 
Mluleki Matiwane of Ndlambe town planning said when the Port Alfred zoning scheme was implemented in 1986 “a university was never envisaged”.
 
“It just happened a few years ago. There was no area for university development,” he said, acknowledging that this needed to be looked at in the SDF review.
 
Maybelle Botha of the Port Alfred Residents and Ratepayers Association said heritage impact should not be overlooked.
 
“This educational institution (Stenden) has planted itself in one of the oldest areas in town and there are heritage issues with buildings over 60 years old,” she said.
 
Grand Street resident Erika Freeme, who has objected to two houses in her street being rezoned general residential and turned into student digs, suggested the Thornhill development was ideal for Stenden’s needs as it had sufficient space and was conveniently placed for the students who do a lot of community work in Nemato.
 
“Wasn’t Thornhill held up as a showcase of a planned community?” Freeme asked Matiwane. “Yes,” he replied.
 
Freeme’s husband David said according to the current SDF there were meant to be three schools in Thornhill, but none had been built. The only school serving the area was oversubscribed, he said.
 
There were also meant to be shopping centres, but people still have to travel to town.
 
“I’d like to see what’s in the current SDF happen,” he said.
 
“We need to build our destroyed infrastructure – water and sewerage – before we develop,” said resident Dudley Walker.
 
Metroplan town planner Ndaba Ndzombane took note of the issues raised and assured residents their input would be taken seriously.
 
“There is a need to develop cities in a sustainable way that promotes densification and integration without creating the negative impact on existing residents you raised,” he said.
 
“We should look at cities who have been through these issues,” said Erika Freeme. “How they addressed accommodation for visitors without resorting to general residential, which opens up development of high rises and sprawl.”
 
The timeframe for the SDF review is 10 months. Metroplan will compile all input and make it available to all interested and affected parties. A follow-up meeting will be held in about four months’ time.

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