One of the latter was allegedly held in October 2013 between Peter Ahern, the developer, and the Plettenberg Bay Tourism Association, a relatively new section 21 company that has also divided the town’s opinion: 1. Are they a positive step forward after bungling by the previous ANC administration or 2. Do they represent the interests of only a few business owners.
In the interests of all sides getting fair representation, i contacted the polite Plett Tourism office and their Chairman, Peter Wallington, asking whether the meeting was secret or not, and, if not, to provide me proof of such. Additionally, since one of my subscribers was frustrated that they’d allegedly tried to negotiate alternate plans with the developer without the public’s knowledge, i asked where i could view those plans or or for them to tell me if the complainant was in error.
To their credit (as opposed to my negative experiences with Knysna Tourism), Peter Wallington responded, saying that, “The meeting you refer to was an informal discussion, initiated by Mike Cohen, with a few tourism role-players who are members of the Tourism board. It was not an official Plett Tourism engagement, and those present were there in their personal capacities.”
Wallington also supplied me with an original email sent by him to Peter Aherm and Mike Cohen, in which he stated:
Dear Peter [Ahern]
Many thanks for the meeting today.
While we remain opposed to the SBH concept in its present form, we are happy to share ideas we have that we think will help Plettenberg Bay overcome its seasonality challenges and create additional employment for all its people. As indicated, we have through Plett Tourism initiated a number of projects which we believe will create the balance the town’s economy is looking for while at the same time protecting the environment and the key attributes which make Plett what it is. Our ideas are all aligned with the brand strategy, a copy of which was sent to Mike many months ago.
It has been proposed to further develop the concepts we have – many of which were shared with you today – by placing them on the LED Forum agenda to ensure that the ideas are widely debated and supported by a broad range of Plett leadership, including Plett Tourism.
We must emphasise that each of us attended yesterday’s meeting in our private capacity and will convey the essence of the conversation to the Plett Tourism board at our next meeting.
We look forward to meeting again shortly.
With best regards
Considering that all 4 local participants are directors on the Board of the Plettenberg Bay Tourism Association, some will cast doubt on this statement. Additionally, from the minutes of the meeting it’s obvious that the Western Cape Marina Investments and CEN saw them as the Plettenberg Bay Tourism Association. However, with such an emotional issue involved, readers should weigh up all the facts below (and more) before judging their intentions.
Wallington was unaware that these minutes, of the meeting, had been taken:
Minutes of the meeting held with
the Plettenberg Bay Tourism Association
Date: 9 October 2013
Venue: Hunter Hotels offices, Uppderdeck Centre, Plettenberg Bay
- Tourism Association, business in Plettenberg Bay and residents representatives (TA): Ian Hunter [CEO of the Hunter Hotels Group/ Plett tourism Board Director], Peter Wallington [owner Serious Moonlight / Chairman of the Board at Oakhill School in Knysna/ Plett Tourism Board Director]), Tony Lubner [owner of Ocean Blue Adventures / Plett Tourism Board Director]
- Bitou Municipality: Dupre Lombard [Strategic Services at Bitou Municipality / Plett Tourism Board Director]
- Western Cape Marina Investments (Pty) Ltd (WCM): Peter Ahern, Vincent xxx
- CEN IEM Unit: Mike Cohen, Belinda Clark
Purpose of the meeting: To discuss alternative development proposals for the Small-boat Harbour EIA process that are aligned with the Plett Brand and Tourism Plan.
Key discussion items:
The meeting started by those present introducing themselves and indicating their respective roles in the process. The nature and status of the Plett Tourism Association was explained, and the important of the Tourism Plan and ‘Brand Plett’ was highlighted.
WCM presented their view on the importance of the proposed harbour development and its benefits for the community at large. The discussion of an alternative proposal was welcomed, and WCM commented that they were at the meeting to listen to what the Tourism Association has to say and how their proposal could be accommodated within the development
The Tourism Association noted that they are not opposed to development and note the importance of economic investment and growth in the town. However, the debate is around whether the current proposal is good for Plett, or if there are other better options that could also stimulate the economy of the town in a manner that is aligned with the approved Tourism Plan. The merits of the proposal were debated at length.
While all agreed that the current development proposal would probably work, the Tourism Association noted that there would likely be a shift in the current users of the area (i.e. the type of tourist and resident would shift).
Tourism: The importance of a development proposal that would attract tourists and visitors to the area in non-seasonal times of the year was highlighted. We need to identify what the drivers/triggers of a successful town are, as decisions taken will change Plett forever.
Tourism presented some development ideas and highlighted the importance of bringing people/development back into the town centre. Development must complement existing facilities and create a town in balance that fits in with the brand strategy and is environmentally sensitive.
WCM: We need to submit the Final Scoping Report within a short time from now. We are now being asked to incorporate an alternative proposal in a short space of time.
Tourism: that is true, but it is better to structure your proposal in a manner that is supported by the people of Plett. We are all in agreement that employment is needed, but the development concept as it stands is not valued by the community.
WCM: The development value extends beyond the people of Plett. The needs analysis extends nationally and even internationally. There are lots of people who love the idea of a harbour.
Tourism: To state that what the local community values is not important is a poor starting point. It is accepted that there will be many people who will say ‘yes’ to the development based on jobs for example, but we need to consider what the town will look like in 10 years and if this is the most sustainable option. We understand the developer needs to make a return on his investment and certainly do not want to turn the opportunity of economic investment into Plett down or chase the developer away. However, the developer cannot come from outside and decide what the town’s vision is.
The height of buildings in the current development proposal and the need for a second hotel was debated. The images that were presented at the Scoping Phase open day were discussed. MC noted that these were an architectural impression, but were to scale. Visual impacts were discussed. WCM noted that a visual impact assessment will be done as part of the EIA process.
Tourism: Questioned who the shareholders are.
WCM: Noted that this information has been disclosed to the municipality on 4 occasions.
MC: Commented that CEN will put the list of directors in the Final Scoping Report.
Tourism: Noted that this is different to the shareholders and they would like to see this information.
WCM: Said they would make this available.
Tourism: Drawings have been done for alternative proposals in line with the ‘coming together’ concept. This involves the rejuvenation of Main Street.
Tourism: Has a social and economic study been done already and why up-front?
MC: Yes, these have been done as part of a feasibility study. They were done up-front as per the request by persons at the focus group meetings held before the Scoping phase. IAPs asked that these be done to determine if the development is economically and socially acceptable. There are a suite of specialist studies that still need to be done, but these will only happen at EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] phase.
Tourism: How far do you proceed with the EIA process if you know there is substantial opposition? Is it the plan to disregard public opposition and just keep throwing EIAs at us?
MC: We advise the client as per the risks, but he has to make the ultimate choice.
WCM: We agree that we need to join in with the Brand Plett concept and link the harbour development with the town centre. If we put a development here inconjunction with existing facilities and look after the beach, we believe this will be a positive impact for the town.
Tourism: The current proposal is fundamentally different to the brand strategy. More dead zones will be created in Plett and the town will be pulled in different directions.
Tourism: Let’s look at what we need to do to attract people to town out of season. There is no events arena – we need a facility in the right place that can host 1000 people for e.g. We have a world heritage site attraction in Kranshoek that cannot be showcased. We need to link the town with Kranshoek.
WCM – Agreed, but there are government funds for these types of developments.
Tourism: There is also a parking problem in town. We need multi storey parking in town from where people can be disseminated to various tourism attractions outside of town. We must not do more of what we already have, as this will not bring people out of season.
WCM: There is a need for mooring facilities. I like what you say but how do we incorporate this into a Scoping report in the next 25 days?
Tourism: Let’s agree on a way forward where you can listen to what people of Plett are saying in amending your proposal. There are enough knowledgeable people in town that could be hand-picked to help with designs etc.
WCM: This would have to go to tender again?
Dupre Lombard: CEN know that you can develop alternatives in the EIA process, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
WCM: We cannot fund alternative proposals at a loss. We need sufficient landside develoment.
Tourism: There are other land opportunities in town where you can ‘make up’ costs.
Dupre Lombard: What causes the high costs of this application? The harbour?
Tourism: The cost of the harbour is a fraction of the whole development cost (10-15%). However, the harbour becomes the signature for the waterfront apartments.
Tourism: Most people are not against the concept of a harbour. However, we don’t want the bulk development next to the harbour – this must go somewhere else.
WCM: If this is done, we won’t get the same price for buildings that are not situated next to the water with moorings. The costs for bulk development will go through the roof if it moves to town.
MC: We need to look at a combination – i.e. a small boat harbour with emphasis on small and incorporate development in other spots.
WCM: How do we execute this?
Dupre Lombard: CEN must identify alternative land. Council cannot be linked to this. How will you go through asset transfer? The issue of alternatives in the EIA process was discussed.
Belinda Clark: Can we identify alternative land sites in conjunction with the TA and DL? We could identify random sites in the EIA process, but it is important that these areas tie in with local knowledge on areas that would work best for the alternative proposals
Tourism: We can assist in putting together a group of people that could guide the vision/strategy and will help identify sites that may work.
WCM: Happy to listen to your suggested group. We will set up a second meeting and bring feasibility guy so that the alternative can seriously be looked at.
Tourism: Detailed drawings are already in place.
WCM: We want to do something in the harbour otherwise the investors will probably say no. We need to see returns – I like your ideas, but they must make money.
WCM: We need to understand what you don’t want in the harbour and where to move it to. I can ask my architects to listen to your ideas and make changes
Way forward: the TA team will send WCM alternative concepts. A workshop will then be held to discuss.
Dupre Lombard: The municipality cannot dispose of land to a developer without the necessary tender processes. They may get approvals for an idea presented in the EIA, but the developer may not necessarily be selected for implementation of the idea. This is a risk, as the developer will put in money in planning phase with no guarantees.
WCM: We will look at alternatives but this is risky. This will have to be built into the project feasibility.
CEN: how long will it take for the Tourism Association to present alternative concept?
Tourism: 60 to 90 days.
CEN: We need development concept and land at this stage – within 30 days.
Tourism: Will meet to discuss a way forward and will send information through as soon as possible.
To summarise and clarify the intentions of the members of Plett Tourism who attended the meeting, i asked the following questions and Wallington was prompt to respond:
The open question is what were Plett Tourism’s proposals or concepts?
Wallington: Firstly, Mike, they were personal ideas. It is important to emphasise they were not Plett Tourism concepts. The conversation was around opportunities which could be explored — from the possibility of investing in the Plett CBD in the form of a conference / convention centre or developing a permanent exhibition / event space, and more generally to making investments consistent with the character of the town. The ideas were suggested to make the point that there were development opportunities which would more likely fit the town positioning – the Council some years ago had quite ambitious plans drawn up as part of its “Coming Together” strategy and the ideas being floated were consistent with that kind of approach.
Have you asked for proof of the funding that would ensure the development went ahead smoothly?
We did ask the developer who his shareholders were. Despite repeated requests, he declined to name them.
Understandably, you want to participate if it goes ahead but, looking at the bigger picture, if Plett Tourism had a choice between development of the harbour or not, would it be a thumbs up or thumbs down?
Plett Tourism does not support the SBH project as currently proposed but is not opposed in principle to the concept of a marina or small boat facility.
Plett Tourism welcomes proposals to upgrade the Central Beach precinct – as it welcomes other tourism development proposals – if they are aligned to the brand strategy and enhance Plett’s positioning as an environmentally-sensitive resort destination.
Furthermore, Plett Tourism is an engaged participant in the newly formed Local Economic Development Forum, and will be using this representative forum to debate a wide range of ideas which various stakeholders have tabled and will table, to develop Plett in a sustainable way.