Much has changed in the Upper Highway area over the past 50 years, with development representing progress to some and poison to others
story hayley dennyson
In recent months, The Crest has received emails from readers, concerned about the way our area is changing. One question that has been raised time and again is: “Who is responsible for planning and approving development within our neighbourhoods?” The simple answer – the Development Planning, Environment and Management Unit at eThekwini Municipality; but their scope is far broader than the Upper Highway. This area falls within the Outer West, one of five regions in the Municipality, which manages a population of over 3,5-million people in an area in excess of 2 000km².
If you look to the Integrated Development Plan (IDP), a 544-page document that informs all forward planning, it sets out the goal of making eThekwini the most caring and liveable city in Africa by 2030. Considering the inherent disparity between communities within the Municipality, achieving that goal requires a determined focus on equalising planning to improve access to services, promote economic growth and provide sustainable employment for all residents.
We spoke to Claire Norton, Manager: Land Use Management within the Development Planning, Environment and Management Unit at eThekwini Municipality – and a Hillcrest resident. “The area has changed exponentially in the 19 years that I have lived here,” she says. “The Outer West doesn’t have the same densification as other areas, but there are other challenges. Where usage rights have been awarded (perhaps incorrectly), it is important that we work with owners and managers to behave in a neighbourly fashion.
“We are aware of the concerns about what makes Hillcrest special and have no intention of destroying that. Rather, we are committed to protecting that which is unique, including the conservancies, D’MOSS and other green areas. We try to maintain a desirable look and feel, but aesthetics are subjective. Offices must have a residential look and cannot exceed three storeys in height.”
Development within the Upper Highway is often compared to uMhlanga Ridge, which is a very different scenario. The Ridge was a greenfield project, meaning that town planners were able to start from scratch, creating a strong framework for the area, and with an Urban Improvement Precinct (or UIP, see page 16 for more) in place to manage aesthetics. The Upper Highway, on the other hand, has a longer history, with an established community experiencing significant growth in the past three decades. As such, the area has had to adapt to the changing needs of that community, growing in and around established landmarks.
“People are drawn here by the beauty of the place, but with a growing community come changing needs,” Claire continues. “Town planning is not a one-size-fits-all approach and requires a careful balance of preserving what is special, while providing the services required by the wider community. It is quite a challenge and we haven’t always got it right. Change is difficult, but, ultimately, we need to keep the city running and sustainable, and attractive to investors.”
“We need to resign ourselves to the fact that the Highway area is changing and Old Main Road is going to be nothing but commercial in the near future,” says Councillor Rick Crouch. “No neighbourhood anywhere in the world, with the exception of Cuba, is as it was 20 or even 10 years ago. It is progress and I understand the nostalgia about the village atmosphere.
“What we have to do now is to ensure that the developments comply with the law and town planning policies. However, we have to be careful of not just objecting to a development for the sake of objecting. Objections must be technical and based on violation of the policy. Anything other than that is inviting disappointment and anger when the objection is deemed not valid.”
“Property owners can be comforted by the legislated protections,” says Richard Evans, attorney specialising in Town Planning. “You have rights and should exercise them. Development and planning applications are a public process with numerous opportunities for the public to get involved. When you move to a new area, familiarise yourself with the Town Planning Scheme to know what is possible.
“Lack of enforcement by the Municipality in cases of illegal development is concerning, as it encourages further lawlessness. We rely on the Municipality to enforce the law and, as such, we should hold them to account.”
On this subject, it must be noted that the tariff to appeal applications that have been approved has increased by 357% to R5 000. “This despite the protestations of the DA,” says PR Councillor Gillian Noyce.
“Hillcrest is a missed opportunity,” Gillian continues. “Some brave decisions could have been made in the early days to set a framework for an efficient town layout, but now we must work with what we have. It is vital that town planning put adequate barriers between residential, commercial and other land uses to reduce undesirable effects, like intrusive noise pollution.
“Property owners have the power to make change, but they need to communicate effectively. Focus on the place where you actually live – make improvements there and you will be surprised what an effect it can have. There is also a need for local businesses to co-operate in coming up with strategies to create a competitive retail hub in Hillcrest.”
Another topic that is regularly raised is the state of our roads and this, we have discovered, is a complicated issue, with some under eThekwini control and others managed by KZN Department of Transport (DOT). The latter include Old Main Road, Hillcrest, Inanda Road and Kassier Road, and while eThekwini Municipality does contribute to the maintenance of these roads, the Municipality is unable to initiate changes.
The Nqutu/Old Main Road intersection seems to be a case of an overlap in jurisdiction and continues to cause problems. Local resident and business-owner Bev Pendock says: “Despite the large increase in traffic volume, we still have a dangerous misalignment of the roads at the Nqutu/Old Main Road intersection, which has been like this for a number of years. There are regular accidents at Mill Road/Old Main Road and, with the opening of a new medical centre soon, surely this is going to get worse?”
At the time of going to print, we were unable to get a comment from KZN DOT.
Meanwhile, the particularly hazardous, unfinished section of Inanda Road, near the Hillcrest Taxi Rank, is subject to a legal matter and cannot be completed until that is concluded.
For many years, there has been talk of an arterial road linking the Upper Highway and uMhlanga, via Inanda. As it stands, the road exists on paper, but the timeline for its creation is unclear.
Looking to the future, there are a few local areas earmarked for substantial development, namely Shongweni, Hammarsdale and Cato Ridge, all of which fall along the pivotal N3 Corridor. This in itself is set for vast investment to improve transport links between Durban harbour and the interior.
Plans have been put in place for a Gateway-style residential, retail and commercial zone in Shongweni, as well as a tourism hub. Long-term, this will require extensive infrastructure upgrades.
All of this is to promote and sustain economic growth for the local communities, providing easy access to employment. “Through all of this, we are conscious of keeping Hillcrest and Kloof relevant and sustainable,” says Claire Norton.
So, what can we all do? Be active citizens, keep abreast of what is happening in our community and participate in the process to create the kind of environment we all want to live in. In the words of American entrepreneur Gary Lew, “This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.”Tags: Development Planning, Environment and Management Unit, eThekwini Municipality, upper Highway