Willows lease up for grabs

JON HOUZET

AN opportunity for a public/private partnership to develop and manage a prime piece of Port Alfred real estate, the Willows Caravan Park, has been opened with the current lease set to terminate as early as next month.

Alternatively, leaseholder Johan Deetlefs has asked to terminate his lease with the municipality at the end of January next year.

Deetlefs and his brother Con have been the lessees of the caravan park since October 31 2001, and although the 10-year lease ended in November last year, they continued on a month to month basis.

Among the parties with proposals to develop and manage the riverfront caravan park are the Port Alfred River and Ski-boat Club (PARSC) and Nemato Change a Life (NCAL), which incorporates the Nemato Rowing Club.

The Deetlefs brothers’ tenure as leaseholders has been embroiled in controversy. Four years ago, former corporate services director Thandeka Mali told council’s executive committee the lessees had misrepresented the BEE component which got them the lease in the first place.

Mali recommended to exco that the Willows lease be terminated. “The municipality has reasonable grounds to terminate this lease and rent out the property to a BEE consortium which will include the fraudulent ‘shareholders’ as alleged by the lessee,” she wrote.

Exco supported the recommendation, but nothing further came of it.

Johan Deetlefs announced his intention to terminate the lease in a letter to mayor Sipho Tandani on June 19, following a meeting with Ward 10 councillor Ross Purdon, who told him of the PARSC’s interest in leasing the caravan park.

He also met with PARSC commodore Mike Neave and offered to cede the lease to PARSC by the end of July pending approval by the municipality.

Last week Neave presented PARSC’s proposal to the Ward 10 committee, to form a public/private partnership with the municipality to develop and operate Willows Caravan Park.

The land (erf 1404) on which the caravan park is situated was bequeathed to the municipality subject to a restrictive condition in the title deed that it be used for sports and recreational purposes only.

The erf accommodates the caravan park, PARSC, the NSRI, Round Table clubhouse, the MOTH hall and storage space for the rowing fraternity including the Nemato Rowing Club.

In motivation for the PARSC proposal, Neave said the growth of the NSRI and the huge increase in rowing activities had resulted in serious congestion and a lack of space around the Ski-boat Club.

“When rowing events coincide with fishing competitions (both regional and national) the area around the PARSC becomes so congested that free access to the NSRI becomes impossible,” the PARSC proposal stated. “Even normal usage by rowers and boaters hampers access to NSRI facilities.”

Neave said the proposed public/private partnership would allow PARSC to revisit land usage to provide unrestricted access to the NSRI facilities, establish a thoroughfare ring road past the front of the Ski-boat Club and through the caravan park and allow for the creation of additional parking for vehicles, boats and trailers associated with rowing.

“This could be achieved without impinging on the ability of the caravan park to accommodate caravans and campers,” he said.

The PARSC also acknowledged the Nemato Rowing Club’s need for their own premises, so they would not have to operate out of containers and risk injury and damage to their boats by using the jetties at the same time as ski-boats.

Last year the NCAL (formerly the Nemato Sports Federation presented its own proposal to develop the Willows into “Kiddies Beach Parka high quality area for family tourism and leisure”.

NCAL founder Jan Blom said their plan was designed to address two of their challenges: the need for space for a boat house for the Nemato Rowing Club; and their youth empowerment programme to develop individuals who can contribute towards the economy and development of Port Alfred and the country.

But Blom said mayor Tandani told him last year that NCAL would not get the lease and it would rather go to PARSC.

He expressed surprise this week at the PARSC’s own acknowledgment that the municipality will still have to advertise its intention to form a public/private partnership and invite submissions from all interested parties.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t apply if the process is still open,” said Blom.

Municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa confirmed “normal processes still need to be followed”.

“Last week’s recommendation of the Ward 10 committee still needs to be ratified and only council has authority to deal with land. No decision has been taken,” said Mbolekwa.

As for the question of ceding the lease, he said the terms and conditions of the entire lease agreement will need to be investigated to see if cession is permissible.

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