Swakopmund ready to host first high rise buildings at the coast

When it comes to the appearance and urban design of Swakopmund, the opinion of the residents doesn’t matter. This was the general feeling at the recent Town Council meeting when the drastic and surprising decision was taken, to give way for the development of high rise buildings in the coastal town. The height restriction for various developments was changed to 40 metres.

The face of Swakopmund as we know it can change forever. Where in the past developers were not allowed to exceed a maximum height of 13 metres (16 metres with consent from Council) for developments, they now can push their structures up to 40 metres – buildings with a total height of up to 13 floors are now allowed since the new Town Planning Amendment Scheme was approved on Thursday last week.
“This proposal entails farreaching changes to our existing Town Planning Scheme with serious consequences,” said Councilor Wilfried Groenewald (SRA) during the meeting. He added that such proposals must lie open for inspection and comments by the public. “It is therefore not understood, that this proposal is now being pressed in such a hasty way, without public input,” he said.
While Groenewald did not argue against a change, he recommended that such dramatic changes should be investigated and need the input of professionals in urban design. “We should draw up a concept where all aspects of such changes are considered,” he said. Although his input was valid, he did not gain any support from other councilors during the meeting, who approved the new Scheme without argument.
The new Town Planning Amendment Scheme No. 12 revolves around the height, bulk and density restrictions within the municipal area of Swakopmund. The application was initially served at the Management Committee meeting of August 2016 but was referred back. What is quite surprising is the fact that the new height restrictions stem from a directive from the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development. In a letter dated 21 July 2016 it states that a Government Notice with the new Amendment Scheme will be “promulgated in the Government Gazette on 15 August 2016.”
While the letter from the line ministry suggests that height restrictions in Swakopmund should be done away with completely, Town Council decided to remove bulk restrictions, but rather approve a height restriction of up to 40 metres for certain zonings. All developments falling under General Residential 1 Zone, General Business Zone, General Industrial Zone, Institutional Zone and Office Zone can now be built up to 40 metres. Developments in the zonings General Residential 2, Local Business and Light Industrial may not exceed 30 metres. Furthermore the height restriction for Single Residential was also changed from eight to 15 metres.
“This town belongs to its people and according to the Namibian Constitution, it is their right to be informed and to participate in such changes. I hereby refer to Article 18 of the Namibian Constitution! This has not been done and it is therefore a serious requirement,” Groenewald added during his address at the meeting.
In the Agenda of the meeting it is argued that “there seems to be a general fear towards change and a notion of keeping Swakopmund in its unsustainable form that promotes costly urban sprawl.” When considering Groenewald’s point of public input, in the Agenda the question is raised why the public should be involved in the administration of its Townlands. “If this should be done for the scheme then we should ask the public for their opinions on water tariff increases, changes in rates and taxes, amending our policies etc.”
While Groenewald addressed Council he raised various other concerns regarding the new scheme. Amongst others he warned of serious legal complications, as investors might now suddenly find themselves in a disadvantaged position. He also questioned the upgrade of essential services as the current services need to be upgraded to accommodate high-rise buildings. “What will it cost to change Swakopmund’s water supply pressure to cater for such high rise buildings and who will pay for it?” he asked.
Although Groenewald put various vital questions to the other councilors, these were not answered or regarded when the decision was approved. Many residents of Swakopmund, including architects and developers, were not aware of this decision or informed beforehand. Namib times spoke to various architects – none of them were aware of the new height restriction in their own town. “What is in it for councillors, who pushed this decision through so quickly without consulting the residents?” one concerned resident asked.
A main concern regarding this drastic change is the future appearance of the current Swakopmund city centre being a main attraction for tourists. “The town centre with its flair unique to Swakopmund is therefore my greatest concern. If we destroy this, we not only do ourselves harm business wise, but also loose many job opportunities,” said Groenewald at the meeting. He fears that the Heritage Act or Aesthetics Committees powers are “just not good enough to protect this.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login