The Development of Cape Town’s Foreshore Freeway Precinct

A synopsis of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process, the development proposals, the qualifying bid, the public reaction, and the potential impact on mobility

The Foreshore Freeway Precinct and the Request for Proposals

The Foreshore Precinct is a very well-located area within Cape Town, which contains approximately six hectares of developable land located under and between the characteristic ‘unfinished’ elevated freeways. The development of this area and, in particular, how to deal with the ‘unfinished’ freeways has been a subject of debate for many years. On July 8th 2016, the City of Cape Town released its Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Development of the Cape Town Foreshore Freeway Precinct. The Prospectus, a public document, set out the City’s expectations from the proposals to guide prospective investors, developers, or development consortia when devising their development proposals. When the Prospectus was released, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development, Councillor Brett Herron, stated that the project was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for urban developers to address the city’s traffic woes and affordable housing needs in return for the rights to develop one of the most valuable, vital and iconic precincts in the CBD”.

The bidders were essentially given a blank canvas; however, the City outlined eight key aspects that needed to be considered and addressed in the proposals:

  1. Addressing the current and future access needs and challenges of the Precinct and CBD across all transport modes;
  2. Multifaceted development that is iconic and demonstrates the principles of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD);
  3. The incorporation of commercial, residential and recreational components into a development that pushes the boundaries of densification and intensification;
  4. Capturing and complementing the culture, natural heritage and uniqueness of Cape Town;
  5. Addressing the social and economic imbalances of the past and, as such, the residential components of all proposals must provide for a diverse cross-section of income groups and elaborate on what percentage of total development rights in the core development zone will be earmarked for the provision of affordable housing;
  6. The treatment of the three incomplete elevated freeway portions, whether incorporated into the development, completed or demolished;
  7. How local content will be addressed, either in terms of design, construction or otherwise;
  8. Job creation, both in the short and long term.

Furthermore, the development proposals were required to focus on the core development envelope – an area of approximately six hectares of developable land owned by the City of Cape Town – and the proposals should be economically viable and largely self-funded. The City intends to make the land available in return for the development rights and the provision of the required infrastructure, with the aim being for development to cross-subsidise the accessibility proposals.

The bidders were given five months from July 2016 to compile their submissions. The bidders were required to submit a detailed development proposal, which included a Detailed Design and Model, an Accessibility Plan, a Property Investment Model, and a Business Plan and Financial Model. This constituted Stage 1 of the RFP process.

Six development proposals

The City received seven proposals from the private sector by the submission date of February 9th, 2017. Six proposals made it through an initial screening and were unveiled to the public. The bidder’s 3D models and video proposals were exhibited at the Civic Centre for a period of approximately two weeks in March last year. This was an anonymous process. The public was invited to comment on the six proposals and express their preference, and the public’s comments were to be taken into account by the multidisciplinary Bid Evaluation Committee.

In sum, half of the bids propose the removal of the elevated freeways, either by bringing the roads to grade or tunnelling the freeways. The other half propose completing the ‘unfinished’ freeways in some form or another. The number of affordable housing units that will be provided differs between proposals, ranging from 450 to 4000 affordable units. Other proposals commit a percentage of the total residential development to be developed as affordable housing, ranging from nearly 50% to 70%.

Very little information about the proposals is available in the public domain aside from the video proposals that were exhibited in March last year, which can be accessed via YouTube.

Qualifying bidder

The bid evaluation process has been concluded and, in February of this year, the City announced Mitchell Du Plessis Associates (MDA) as the qualifying bidder. The key elements of MDA’s proposal, also known as Proposal F, are summarised below:

  • The ‘unfinished’ freeways will be completed with connections to and from Helen Suzman Boulevard, and connections to and from the N1 and N2 freeways;
  • A combination of approximately 3 200 market-related residential units and a minimum of 450 affordable residential units will be provided;
  • The completion of the ‘unfinished’ freeways, the new roads and the affordable residential units will be financed or cross-subsidised through the development of upmarket and mid-market residential units;
  • Market-related residential units will be located in 11 new tower blocks ranging in height between 63 m, 123 m and 143 m, which will be constructed on the strip of land between the new freeways;
  • The tower blocks will rest on podiums, which will also partially support the new freeway viaducts;
  • The new viaducts or flyovers will be higher than the existing freeways to provide enough space, natural light and airflow;
  • The proposed podiums beneath the highways will accommodate the bulk of affordable housing units, parking bays, convenience and specialty shops, retail space, and community facilities; and
  • Another 10 residential buildings will be constructed to accommodate affordable housing units on land closest to the harbour under or between the existing east-bound freeways.

It is estimated that the development costs could reach R8.3 billion.

Public reaction to qualifying bidder’s proposal

The City’s announcement of the qualifying bidder has been followed by a wave of backlash and criticism from experts and the general public. Firstly, there remains serious concerns regarding allegations of mismanagement of the bid and political interference in the bid evaluation process, which has been well-covered in the media. Secondly, there has been backlash to the qualifying bidder’s proposal itself.

Professor Vanessa Watson, founder and executive members of UCT’s African Centre for Cities, the lobby group Ndifuna Ukwazi as well as the Cape Institute for Architecture (CIfA) and the Urban Design Institute of South Africa (UDISA) have all publicly denounced the proposal and described the provision of 450 affordable housing units as “tokenism”. They have also highlighted that the qualifying bid does not conform to the criteria set out by the City in its prospectus.

Another key critique is the proposed construction of 11 new tower blocks on the strip of land between the elevated freeways. The row of tower blocks, together with the existing and new elevated freeways, stand to create a wall between the city and the sea that could potentially cut the city off from the ocean completely.

Potential impact of the proposal on access to and mobility within the CBD

Engineer and Honorary Research Associate with UCT’s Centre for Transport Studies, Dr Lisa Kane, argues that the proposal goes against the City’s Draft Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan 2017 – 2022, which promotes the use of public transport over private vehicles. Dr Kane acknowledges that there may be short-term benefits of completing the freeways but argues that we need to question “who’s benefitting and at what cost?”.

The CIfA and UDISA have also stressed the contradictions of the proposal with the City’s transport policy and assert that the proposal rests on a myth that congestion will decrease with the construction of additional roads. Aside from the lack of policy justification for the proposal, Dr Kane further questions why the City is even considering completing a plan that was devised in the 1960s as a traffic distribution scheme and argues that “it simply continues the vision of the 1960s highway designers for a car-oriented Foreshore at great cost to the possibilities of developing a truly iconic area as an asset for the city in the long term”.

Lastly, Dr Kane and Prof Watson have both highlighted the paradox that Cape Town is opting to complete its elevated freeways when cities all around the world are demolishing theirs to make way for more vibrant, inclusive, and less car-orientated urban spaces. This begs the question: why does Cape Town appear to be diverging from this trend?

The next steps

Proposal F submitted by MDA is the only proposal that has qualified to move on to Stage 2 of the RFP process. During Stage 2, MDA will enter into an agreement with the City and will be required to submit an Investment Plan, which must include a detailed financial plan, related phasing plan, and other critical information.

Stage 2 of the RFP process can only commence after the expiry of the period for bidders to lodge any disputes, objections, complaints and queries, and the resolution thereof. Despite apparent problems with the qualifying bid, it is clear that there remains very little information available to the public, which means that unfortunately there are more questions than answers at this stage.

The video illustrating Proposal F can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_5U_xtkTTc

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