Demolition going ahead on Castle Hill ‘problem’ structure despite appeal having been lodged
Deemed a “problem building” by the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, the historic The Summit building in one of Port Elizabeth’s oldest heritage and tourism precincts is now into its second week of demolition.
By Thursday most of the top floor of the structure – which is situated diagonally opposite one of the city’s flagship museum and tourist attractions, No 7 Castle Hill – had already been removed.
The breakdown of the building started on April 29.
The demolition has drawn the ire of the Mandela Bay Heritage Trust (MBHT), which said last week it had lodged an appeal against the demolition but despite this, the destruction was continuing.
The municipality’s human settlement building inspectorate, however, this week confirmed the legitimacy of the demolition, saying an application had been received and approved on March 29.
According to historical sources, the original owner of the house was a member of the then Cape Legislative Assembly and a shipping agent, James Searle, who built it to be able to monitor his business.
In the 1930s two Art Deco wings were added to the Castle Hill elevation and additional accommodation provided.
SA heritage legislation stipulates that structures older than 60 years are regarded as heritage sites and require permission for activities such as alterations and demolitions.
National organisation The Heritage Portal, which serves as a news and information platform for the SA heritage sector, had listed The Summit as an “endangered building” on its website.
The destruction of such structures requires both municipal and heritage approvals.
The Summit, which has been officially vacant for some years and which was also extensively damaged by fire in 2014, is one of a high number of decaying and decrepit structures in the metro that have degenerated into so-called problem buildings, attracting vagrants, wanton vandalism and materials stripping, along with criminal elements.
MBHT secretary Lyn Haller said when the organisation heard about the developments at the site, it had lodged an appeal against the demolition.
“We have lodged an appeal.
“A tribunal was supposed to be formed which would then make a decision on the building. This means that the demolition should stop immediately and until a decision has been made on the appeal,” Haller said.
However both the demolition company and the quantity surveyors and project management firm Synergy Group, which had contracted Coastal Demolishers to undertake the work, said the building was no longer structurally sound and could not be salvaged.
“The building is owned by a prominent property owner,” Synergy Group CEO Grant Hechter said.
“Engineers have looked at it and there is no way it can be salvaged. It has taken three years to get the approvals – both from the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority and the Bay municipality, for the demolition.
“The structure was very unsafe and was attracting some very bad elements.
“Also, and due to the environment the building is situated in, there are slim prospects of establishing another viable building there at present.”
Coastal Demolishers owner Pieter Bekker said his company was in possession of both of the required permits allowing for the structure to be demolished.
Describing the structure as beyond salvage, Bekker confirmed that vagrants had to be ordered out of the “filthy” building before demolition could start there.
“Of course I am generally in favour of preserving our heritage buildings. The Summit is, however, beyond being salvaged,” Bekker said.
“There are areas where you can just pull bricks out with [your] hands, such is the decay.”
Bekker said the demolition would take around two weeks to complete.
“There are safety considerations and one must take surrounding buildings into account in order that they do not get damaged,” he said.
While acknowledging that he was aware of some discontent over the demolition, he said he was confident that the demolition project had the correct approvals to proceed.
Municipal spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki said the metro had granted the permit on the basis that the building was “dilapidated, a crime haven and has extensive fire damage” and the administration had listed it as a problem building.
Mniki also confirmed that a similar application had been received for a second problem building in the immediate vicinity, The Malbador.
He said while the administration had recently adopted a problem building bylaw – which would pave the way for the authority to address the many similar buildings in the metro through actions such as demolition – the permit for The Summit had not been granted on that basis as that bylaw had not yet been promulgated.
Mniki said problem buildings in the city had a very negative impact on safety and security in their areas.
When asked who owned the building, Mniki declined to provide the information, saying it would have to be obtained via a promotion of access to information application.