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‘Mall will cripple Delft’s small businesses’

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Business groups in Delft are up in arms over the construction of a multi-million-rand Shoprite Checkers mall in the area, saying they fear it could negatively impact existing small businesses.

The Delft Development Forum (DDF) and the Black Business Chamber (BBC) accuse Shoprite Checkers of refusing to engage with them directly and deliberately ignoring their proposals on how the community can benefit.

In an open letter to Shoprite Checkers chief executive Whitey Basson, mayor Patricia de Lille and city manager Achmat Ebrahim, the DDF and BBC call for the project to be suspended until more meaningful public engagement between the company and the community takes place.

“We are not opposing the development of the Delft CBD in principle. Our concerns are with the process as well as the impact of the development on the local economy in Delft and that of existing and potential businesses in our community,” the letter says.

Construction on the 11 000 square-metre mall started last month and is due for completion by the end of next year.

Although the company would not reveal the exact cost of the development, the 9.7ha property on which the mall is being built was sold by the city council for R20m several years ago.

An economically depressed area where unemployment is high and people jostle to make a living from their small businesses, the mall would become the first major development of its kind in Delft.

Chairman of the DDF Ivan Kula alleged the company was not engaging the forum to discuss how small business people and jobless residents would benefit, while Shoprite Checkers was only looking to profit from them. “This is a very strategic development which will have decisive impact on our community.

“The DDF looks at developments such as these with the hope for jobs and opportunities in a sea of despair. We wish to engage to see that this project is not built in a vacuum,” he said.

A Shoprite supermarket would be the anchor tenant while the group also plans to bring its other brands to the mall.

The company said the remainder of the tenant mix for up to 50 shops, would be finalised shortly.

Secretary general of the BBC Khaya Cishe said: “We are starting to see a trend that big developers push our people away and push them out of business because the rental costs are too high. “In the face of unemployment, there’s a fear small business will have to close down. We are not against the opening of a mall, but we have a vision that we want to unpack.”

The DDF estimates there are around 300 spaza shops operating in the area.

In response to the claims, the company said: “In its planning the Shoprite Group of Companies always considers and consults with local and broader knowledge and expertise to develop sites we acquire to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

“The needs of our customers are always recognised as we can’t deny their role in making these developments financially viable.”

Shoprite said it was the group’s intention to sell 2.8ha of the property to a residential developer, while a further 1 900 square metres of the property would revert to the council along with a R2m contribution to establish a community facility of its choice.

Deputy mayor Ian Neilson said he was satisfied that the process to date had been transparent and inclusive.

“This project is in line with our efforts to drive responsible development that is to the benefit of communities. In this case, additional conditions of sale were put in place that were to be to the direct benefit of the community. We also asked for assurances that, as far as possible, use would be made of local labour for the different phases of the development,” he said.

Delft councillor Courtney van Wyk said the public had been engaged at a series of meetings and a question-and-answer session in June had been attended by over 200 people.

An ad hoc committee to represent the community was elected at meetings in Voorbrug, Eindhoven and Delft South last month. Two community liaison officers had also been appointed from 11 applicants.

Van Wyk said the committee would ensure the minimum labour requirement of providing job opportunities for at least 20 unskilled labour workers and two local subcontractors for the first phase of the earthworks, were met.

 

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