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It's Easter egg awards time
25 March 2008

Reading through the progress report on the Inner City Regeneration Charter, it seems that there are few awards to be handed out.

Neil Fraser
Neil Fraser

LOOKING at the Inner City Regeneration Charter update report on deliverables due by the end of December 2007, it would appear that some of the planned work has moved along reasonably well.

There are some charter projects that have no information provided in the report, probably meaning that no action has been embarked on by the responsible departments, or maybe just no information has been supplied to the inner city programme manager. These include the increase in visible policing, an enforcement regime for informal trading, supplementary incentives to the Urban Development Zone, and so on.

There are other projects that are marked as running "late", such as some of the informal trading projects, including the Hoek Street linear market, which has resulted in some harsh comments from its business partners; economic development programmes; access to broadband; and so forth. Then there is some mystery regarding the International Transport and Shopping Centre, which appears to have moved from a public sector responsibility to that of the private sector, while the "revived" Better Buildings Programme appears somewhat mired in bureaucracy.

Reporting on some of the transportation projects appears quite vague. However, it must be exceedingly difficult to gather the documentation together for nearly 200 "programmes/projects" from literally dozens of council sources.

The report, while comprehensive, does of course present just one side of the picture and I doubt that the programme manager has had time to interrogate the individual reports presented to her in any detail. It would, therefore, be good to see the promised independent auditor providing a more objective report and a visual presentation of targets versus actuals achieved.

Independent audit
The report does state that "an annual report will be validated by an independent body to comply with the charter commitment" and that this will be made public in June of each year, starting this year. We are almost at the end of March - almost a year after the Inner City Summit in May 2007 - and June is just around the corner. If an independent auditor is going to be given a fair chance to examine each project objectively, time is already running out and it will need to be an organisation with large resources.

Why an independent body? This arises from concerns expressed on a number of occasions throughout the pre-summit period that the council, being both player and referee, needed a "third umpire" to whom the progress reports could be referred for verification.

One document stated that there would be a "neutral and independent specialist tasked with assembling evidence of the progress achieved". Why is this so important? Well, during the pre-summit period there was a great deal of scepticism over the charter process. Many felt that it would end up as just another council talk-shop that would gloss over issues to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy. I would think that would be the last thing on the executive mayor's mind.

But then why; is it because no-one believes council reports? No, but there is a great deal of scepticism about the gap between nice words said in public by council officials and some politicians and the state of play on the ground. In other words, what is the gap between official reporting to placate the politicians and reality?

The other mutterings that I've become aware of relate to the issue of partnership. Having given a great deal of personal time during the pre-summit process to outline the problems and suggest some solutions, it would appear as if certain parts of the private sector have not been involved in the determination of the solutions.

In other words, what was perceived in many non-council quarters was that this would be an opportunity to start a true partnership between public and private sectors and not one of sitting on the sidelines and simply being told that, "It's all been taken care of!" For example, the charter states that by March 2008 the City of Johannesburg "will have reviewed all relevant by-laws to ensure an easily understood and easily applicable body of law appropriate to the circumstances in the inner city".

There is a genuine desire by the private sector to be really involved in such a process because it deals with the practical realities on a day-to-day basis. In the same way, business organised itself into various specialist groups to debate various issues with council officials, but have been largely ignored. That is not what public-private partnership is about.

At the moment I would restrict my Easter egg presentation to one very large Pesach Bunny for the inner city programme manager for the report and her ability to smooth even the most ruffled of feathers (and look so good while doing it). If rabbits aren't kosher, then trade it in for the largest box of Godiva chocolates available.

City airport
According to advertisements and reports in the media, the City is apparently investigating the feasibility of establishing another airport. The four existing airports that service the city because of their close proximity are outside its metropolitan boundaries, viz international status OR Tambo and Lanseria and regional status Rand and Grand Central airports.

Is it a case of the change in name to ORT means that no one now talks of "Johannesburg International", or maybe that we can't count an airport as one of the city's assets and a world-class city needs an airport on its scorecard? Or is the City actually serious about this issue?

It seems to me that there is so much to do to get our existing assets in shape that this will be money ill spent. As one media report stated, "The proposal also comes about a decade after the so-called Springs-Nigel International Airport proposal, which was roundly rejected by the authorities at the time."

But then maybe it is a genuine attempt to provide pilots with blackout flying experience. No chocolates, maybe some liquorice.

Provincial government
I see that the charter report states that the City has come to some agreement with the provincial authorities regarding the future of the Rissik Street Post Office. Wouldn't it be nice if someone shared this with the public which has been so concerned about the building, with a great deal of reason, for such a long time?

I first wrote about the Rissik Street Post Office seven years ago and all that has happened has been more and more deterioration.

It would also be equally pleasant to learn the details of the provincial government precinct now that confirmation has been made in media that nothing is to be demolished and refurbishing of the existing buildings "has already started". I hope that those concerned will remember that these are mostly heritage buildings whose retention has been hard fought for and that demolition is not the only issue that is covered in the National Heritage Resources Act.

There is also the whole issue of alterations and additions and it would be worth the while of those concerned to check their legal limitations before we have another debacle. We trust that the same care that went into the restoration of the old South African Reserve Bank building on the corner of Fox and Simmonds streets will be accorded these buildings.

Chocolate spectacle boxes for those involved in the "secret" Rissik Street Post Office and Gauteng provincial government precinct discussions so that they can keep on their rose-tinted spectacles, but a large box of Quality Street for those involved in the restoration of the old Reserve Bank building.

Of major concern is the apparent collapse of progress in the public sector development of Newtown. Although they didn't foresee the heritage investigation, they should have, and, any way, that was resolved quite some time ago. One sees absolutely no signs of progress in the redevelopment of Transport House, where the preferred bidder was announced at least two years back. Nor does there appear to be anything stirring at Central Place nor the Majestic project at the Market precinct. Sour balls for all involved.

World-class city
Some good news, if you can classify it as that. It was reported in The Star newspaper on Thursday, 20 March that the Master-Card Worldwide Insight Report on Urbanisation and Environmental Challenges (don't ask!) ranked Johannesburg the second best city in Asia, the Middle East and Africa in dealing with these issues. Melbourne came first. We were sixth when ranked "solely by environmental factors that were within policy control".

The author of the report evidently stated that "the overall picture for Johannesburg is that by and large the city has done incredibly well in creating a high-quality environment within its urban setting, managing increasing population growth and a degree of unpredictable impacts to ensure a good quality of life for residents". Ja, nee, wonder if he's ever been here. One of those jelly dummies for him.

Rand Steam Laundry
No chocolates for Imperial, just black bread and water for an awfully long time.

I hope you had a happy Easter and Human Rights/Family Day.

Regards, Neil

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Last Updated on 25 March 2008