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Makeover for Newtown hinges on compromise

Posted On Monday, 29 October 2007 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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The question of whether development or heritage protection should receive priority has become a bone of contention in one of Johannesburg’s historical and cultural hubs, the Newtown Precinct.

Lael BethlehemOn Friday, a range of stakeholders met to start the process of finding a compromise between the opposing forces to ensure that Newtown retains its original character but also develops into an area of choice for major corporations and city authorities.

Since its regeneration began with the commissioning of the Nelson Mandela Bridge in 2003, Newtown seems to have thrived.

The Brickfields housing development, the proposed AngloGold Ashanti head office and the Sci-Bono science resource centre in the area are just some of the developments that have given prominence to its transformation and popularity from a mixed-use area of declining fortune.

Now, however, focus is shifting towards the preservation of Newtown’s architectural and social heritage. The South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra) successfully enforced some of these considerations on the AngloGold Ashanti project, compromising on demolition work while providing for restoration of the rest of the building.

Empowered by the National Heritage Resources Act, Sahra obtained a provisional heritage declaration order covering mainly the core “central place precinct”, the area around Bassline.

The order strengthened Sahra’s negotiations with developers, according to its cultural officer, Jennifer Kitto.

Its aim was to stop developments already planned by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) and the Johannesburg Property Company , both owned by the city.

The most contentious was “Site 5”, next to the Workers Museum, which had been earmarked for a hotel. Objections that the hotel’s multistorey structure would not fit in with the surroundings forced the project to be abandoned.

Now both developers and the heritage community acknowledge each other’s importance.

At the meeting on Friday, draft guidelines were discussed on how to find a suitable compromise.

These guidelines, produced by Sahra, in co-operation with the JDA, will form the basis for a “holistic approach to the development of Newtown”.

JDA head Lael Bethlehem said: “We see the heritage side as a resource and also as something that helps to give Newtown its identity.”

Any development that takes account of heritage “will be constrained, but this should encourage creative thinking ”, she said .

Further workshops will be held soon and it is expected that guidelines will be prepared for each of the five areas of Newtown, taking account of the nature of the building site and its relationship with other sites.


Last modified on Friday, 16 May 2014 14:20

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