A way back to golden glow
Durban’s Golden Mile seemed to have lost a little of its lustre, but if recent reports are to be believed the golden glow is back. Lea Jacobs investigates what has been happening in what was once regarded as a top holiday destination
THEORETICALLY, Durban’s beachfront has it all — miles of golden sand, the warm Indian Ocean and endless hotels that cater for all tastes. However the area has slowly but surely been going downhill and the once famous beaches, although not empty, are nowhere near as popular as before.
However, recent reports indicate that things have improved and the upgrades to the promenade undertaken before the Soccer World Cup have boosted the area, drawing back those who had chosen places with better maintained amenities.
Are the reports true, or are those with business interests in the area simply trying to make the best of a bad situation?
Some time ago, certain sections of the beachfront were regarded as no-go areas. Street crime was commonplace, the area was filthy and, perhaps most devastating, four of the city’s beaches lost the coveted Blue Flag status.
Seen by many as a death knell for the city’s tourism industry, it was not deemed an important issue by Mike Sutcliffe, eThekwini’s city manager, who as recently as last year was quoted as saying that the Blue Flag system is in use on relatively few beaches in few countries and does not apply to major global tourist destinations.
While he may believe that the loss is unimportant, there can be little doubt that its removal has boosted tourism in other parts of the country. Visitors, it would seem, want the assurance that the water in the areas in which they swim is safe, and that bacterial levels remain within recognised parameters.
While important, this was not the only concern for those considering a holiday in Durban. The city, with its spectacular worldclass stadium, proved to be a big hit with soccer fans from all over the world. Visible policing, removal of vagrants and the overall clean-up initiated during the tournament all added to the positive vibe, and the tourists returned, if not in masses, at least in greater numbers than before.
Heather Sudding, Pam Golding Properties manager in Durban, says that unfortunately, although the situation is improving the perception that there is still a high crime rate and that beggars remain prevalent on the beachfront continues to affect property values in the area.
However, she says that the situation has improved, due in part to a visible police presence during daylight hours all year round.
Added to this, she says the Point precinct, situated close to Ushaka Marine World, has excellent security, a great deal of which is paid for by owners who belong to The Point Association.
Unlike Cape Town and nearby Umhlanga, where prime beachfront property is bought and sold at a premium, property along Durban’s Golden Mile has never realised anywhere near those prices. There is more to this than meets the eye. A large number of North Beach’s properties are sold under shareblock or leasehold title.
Keith Wakefield, from Wakefields Estate Agents, says although the situation is slowly changing and the municipality has assisted with the transfer from shareblock/leasehold to sectional title, he believes not enough is done in maintaining levels of street cleanliness or the enforcement of bylaws to maintain acceptable standards.
He says that generally speaking most shareblock properties are sold for cash. However, there are banks that are willing to finance the transaction if their criteria are met.
It appears that the North Beach area is the more popular choice for investors. Sudding says the reasons for this include the fact that the majority of the units in the area are shareblock and, as such, the buildings have been better maintained.
This, she says, has fuelled pricing and generally speaking, prices are far higher than those centrally situated or on South Beach.
Wakefield says that at this stage the average price paid for a unit in North Beach hovers around the R680 000 mark.
A unit situated in the central part of the beachfront will cost about R600 000, while a unit in South Beach retails for about R450 000.
As with any area there are exceptions, and Pam Golding Properties recently concluded a sale valued at R1,450m.
Overall, it seems that although the area still has a long way to go the situation is improving and will continue to do so as long as the municipality remains focused on delivering services aimed at pleasing those who are without a doubt the lifeblood of the city — the tourists.
Although the views are impressive, Durban beachfront’s reputation has been tarnished by high crime levels and the loss of Blue Flag status.