Forty years later and Solly's Folly is still a Cape Town disaster
Multibillion-rand project to complete freeways and develop strip of land between CBD and Table Bay has been scrapped
It was an opportunity to “make history”, according to Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, Brett Herron.
Mayor Patricia de Lille described it as “a significant milestone” in Cape Town’s journey to becoming “an African and international city of the future”.
Today, it’s just another failed attempt to sort out “Solly’s Folly” — the Foreshore freeways proposed by city engineer Solly Morris but left unfinished in the 1970s when the money ran out.
Cape Town city manager Lungelo Mbandazayo announced on Wednesday that the multibillion-rand project to complete the freeways and develop a 140m strip of land between the city centre and Table Bay had been scrapped.
It was two years and 10 days since De Lille and Herron launched a glossy brochure requesting proposals from the private sector.
In the document, Herron said: “This prospectus ... offers you as an investor, developer or development consortium an opportunity to make history by being the author of this solution, and designing and delivering precisely the Foreshore Freeway Precinct development proposal that Cape Town needs.”Seven bidders threw their hats into the ring for what the prospectus called “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”, and the six that passed muster displayed models of their proposals at an exhibition in March 2017.
Herron said the final shortlist would be ready by July, but when this did not happen the Sunday Times revealed that then city manager Achmat Ebrahim had written to the bidders saying: “I have reconstituted a multidisciplinary bid evaluation committee which will be starting the evaluation process afresh.”It emerged that forensics company Moore Stephens, which was appointed to review the work of the bid evaluation committee, had written to Ebrahim in August advising him to remove Cape Town transport commissioner Melissa Whitehead from the committee and start work afresh.
Director Gillian Bolton wrote: “We have become increasingly concerned about the meetings held so far as regards an absence of objectivity, impartiality and a lack of consistency on the part of Ms Whitehead.”Bolton said Whitehead appeared to be partial to a bid from Urban Dynamics Consortium, dubbed “Circle of Good Hope”, and biased against a bid from Mitchell du Plessis Associates.
She was also concerned about “the apparent undue influence which Ms Whitehead is seeking to bring to bear on other members of the bid evaluation committee as regards scoring, more especially given that their reporting lines in the city are to her”.
In February 2018, the second bid evaluation committee, chaired by senior city council engineer Paul Vink, recommended Mitchell du Plessis Associates as the preferred bidder, and the company was given until August to submit a detailed construction, financial and management plan.
But Mbandazayo’s announcement on Wednesday torpedoed the entire process. The city manager said several appeals and objections to its decision in February “contested the application of the evaluation criteria as set out in the request for proposals documentation”.
He added: “Having received legal advice, the city concluded that a lack of sufficient clarity in the request for proposals documentation rendered the evaluation criteria vague.
“Procurement processes must be compliant with the rule of law. There must be no doubt about the integrity of these processes and, as such, I have decided to cancel the request for proposals.“Furthermore, the economic outlook for the country has become significantly weaker since the issuing of the request for proposals two years ago. This change, together with the additional burdens that the city, its ratepayers and residents are facing at the moment, cannot be ignored.
“The city is, therefore, reconsidering the future of this project, and we will communicate further once a decision has been made.”
MDA director Jedd Grimbeek was said to be in meetings all day on Wednesday, and did not respond to queries from Times Select.
Herron said he was disappointed “that this first attempt at finding a viable self-funding solution did not work out” but said he respected Mbandazayo’s decision.
“We obviously still need to find a solution to the traffic congestion and the future of the unfinished freeways,” he said.
“We also need to consider what role the 6ha of land in the precinct can play in the development of the Foreshore precinct and importantly how it can contribute to an inclusive inner city by delivering affordable and social housing in our city centre.
“The first request for proposals may be cancelled but these matters still need attention and so it will have to be back to the drawing board for the professional teams to address the issues.”Critics of the MDA proposal, which featured 11 skyscrapers, said it would entrench spatial inequality and further disconnect people from the sea. One prominent academic said the new elevated freeways 18m in the air, with 450 low-cost homes beneath them, would create “a wall between Cape Town and the sea”.Vanessa Watson, professor of city planning in the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town, said: “There was a big emphasis [in the criteria] on affordable housing, on addressing the problems of the apartheid city and spatial segregation, acknowledging the historic and cultural nature of Cape Town. The project put forward did not meet one of these criteria.
“It is another upmarket housing estate, creating a wall between Cape Town and the sea. We must be the last city in the world suggesting the completion of our elevated freeways rather than take them down to ground level. There is no recognition of history or place, which is what attracts tourists here after all. Architects seem to think we should be copying Singapore or Shanghai.”UCT transport expert Lisa Kane told Times Select on Wednesday she was relieved the MDA plan had been shelved. “The selected proposal had, in my view, the least to offer the city as a whole,” she said.
But Kane, honorary research associate at UCT’s Centre for Transport Studies, said the request for proposals had highlighted the Foreshore’s potential, as well as the creativity and energy of built-environment professionals in Cape Town.
“I hope that the cancellation will now allow the professionals who worked on the bids to share their thoughts and ideas more fully with the public,” she said, adding that until now they had been prevented from doing so by confidentiality agreements with the city council.
“We really need vibrant debate about the many possibilities of road spaces to improve quality of life – not only on the Foreshore but across South Africa as a whole.
“Without a coming together of the various interest groups I do not foresee a resolution to this ongoing Foreshore story.”
David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront – one of the Foreshore bidders – said: “This was a good initiative to use private sector money in improving transport infrastructure in the city. We hope it will be revisited in due course.”
Whitehead was suspended in January and faces disciplinary charges over alleged misconduct which is not related to the Foreshore project.
Cape Town city’s Mbandazayo told Times Select on Wednesday: “We can confirm that disciplinary proceedings are currently under way and due to the nature thereof, a finalisation date cannot be predetermined.
“As such disciplinary is of an internal nature, I am unfortunately not at liberty to furnish specifics relating thereto.”
Ebrahim resigned as city manager in January on the day he was supposed to provide reasons why he should not be suspended pending disciplinary proceedings.