Plans for waterfront gain new momentum

Port Elizabeth habour

Transnet indicates construction to start in 2019, preparatory work already under way

After decades of proposals, promises and postponements, Port Elizabeth is likely to see construction of its longmooted waterfront development begin within the city’s harbour from 2019.

First floated more than 40 years ago, the idea of a waterfront development had been touted by a succession of Nelson Mandela Bay municipal leadership and development experts.

But even though the municipality secured target dates from the landowners, the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) invariably postponed them over the years.

A new date was announced after a meeting last week, with Transnet subsequently confirming that preparatory work towards establishing the waterfront had already started and construction on the first phase of the project would start in 2019.

Organised business in the region and development organisations such as the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) have welcomed the new timeframes for the project.

Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber president Thomas Schaefer said: “Open communication between the various stakeholders around the ports’ development is essential and we would encourage more opportunities to engage with Transnet on this matter.”

The business chamber has been lobbying for the removal of the manganese and liquid bulk storage facilities on prime beachfront land for sevand eral years.

“We are particularly concerned by the slippage in the timelines of this flagship investment in the region,” Schaefer said.

“Not only would the move unlock the tourism and ocean economy potential of the region, but it would also result in road, rail and maritime activities in Nelson Mandela Bay getting a major boost in terms of service contracts and employment opportunities.”

To date, the biggest stumbling blocks for the development – which is expected to create jobs, expand the regional economy and boost tourism to the area – have been three TNPA operations at the port.

They are the bulk storage fuel tank farm, the manganese ore dump and its associated shipping activities.

The tank farm and ore dump occupy the land earmarked for the waterfront.

The existing tank farm will be decommissioned ahead of a new bulk storage facility at the Port of Ngqura in 2019.

The manganese operation will also be relocated to Ngqura, but only in 2023.

Both facilities are situated near the heart of the Bay’s beachfront recreation and tourism offering.

The latest developments emerged after Tuesday’s City Hall meeting between mayor Athol Trollip and Transnet Group chief executive Siyabonga Gama, when it was decided to establish a port city discussion forum.

Municipal chief of staff Kristoff Adelbert said the meeting was also attended by city manager Johann Mettler and mayoral committee members who committed to working together to boost investment, grow the economy streamline transversal operations.

“In the interest of cooperative governance and efficiency, both the mayor and Gama resolved to establish a port city discussion forum made up of representatives from the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and Transnet, which would meet regularly to identify solutions to challenges before they became obstructive,” Adelbert said.

It would also include political representation, which would add political will to forum decisions and activities.

Expressing his support for Transnet’s commitment to continue investing in Nelson Mandela Bay, Trollip said: “The municipality is also embarking on a mission to get the city moving forward again.

“Clean governance, efficient service delivery and infrastructure maintenance are some of our primary focuses.”

Confirming the timeframes for port developments, Gama said the preparatory work was already under way.

“Transnet is undertaking pre-feasibility studies, land planning and scoping so that comprehensive construction plans are in place well in advance,” he said.

Transnet spokeswoman Viwe Tlaleane said the parastatal, as part of the pre-feasibility studies, was also in the process of making considerations for all the necessary architectural work, engineering designs, and environmental and commercial studies to ensure optimal use of the land.

“Alongside this process, Transnet will also call for proposals for the development, construction and operation of the facility,” she said.

“Construction of the first phase is expected to commence in 2019.”

MBDA acting chief executive Ashraf Adam said: “The MBDA welcomes the commitments by Gama as they will accelerate the initiatives already undertaken, some jointly with the MBDA.”

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