Somerset Precinct Rezoning – Object Now!

What is the Somerset Hospital precinct?

The Somerset Hospital Precinct is located in the inner city between the Cape Town Stadium and the V&A Waterfront. It is 10.6 hectares in size, which is equal to almost eleven Rugby fields. It is considered the most valuable piece of property that the Western Cape Provincial Government owns, and is worth billions of Rands. The precinct includes the Somerset Hospital, the Helen Bowden Nurses Home (also known as Ahmed Kathrada house) and the Old City Hospital. Only a small part of the site is currently being used as a working hospital. Large areas are lying empty and most of the site is not open to the public. The site is incredibly well-located in terms of access to jobs, schools and public transport.

What is happening?

The Western Cape Provincial Government has submitted an application to have the land rezoned from Community Open Space and Open Space to General Business 6. This would allow for general business activity, such as restaurants, shops and office spaces in tall buildings. In terms of spatial planning and land use law (any building or development must take place in-line with these laws), the City of Cape Town, is the authority that must either:

• Accept the application
• Reject the application
• Accept the application with conditions attached

What is the development that is being proposed?

The application proposes a mixed-use development including retail, commercial, hotel and residential uses. The site will be developed densely with buildings ranging from 5 – 10 storeys high, and the construction costs will be at least R3.9 billion.

The proposal is for 270 000 m² of floor space – which is roughly equal to two Canal Walk shopping centers.

The proposal includes a day clinic, a medical museum and  that the original hospital building is retained because of it significant heritage value. Provincial Government intends to ‘release’ the site through three phases. It is unclear whether this will be through a sale or a lease.

Somerset Precinct 2017 ARG design

Provincial Government’s proposed mixed-use development : 40% of the site is for commercial use (restaurants, cafes, offices, shops, hotels), 1060 luxury apartments, 300 ‘affordable’ apartments, day clinic and a small medical museum.

Somerset Pie Chart

What is wrong with the development proposal?

1. Little public benefit
The proposed development prioritises the economic value of the land over its social value. As a result, the proposed plan paves the way for the site to be privatised with very little public benefit. The Provincial government is treating this prime piece of public land just like a for-profit private developer would.

2. A step backwards
The regional hospital is moving from the site and will be replaced by a small community day clinic (2500m² in size). This represents a significant step backwards in terms of the public benefit that Provincial government’s most expensive piece of land will provide.

3. The plan is vague
The plan does not give enough detail, which means that the City will not be able to understand the full impact that the development would have.

4. Too little affordable housing
The plan says that it will include ‘at least 300 affordable housing apartments’. Research by local and international experts found that the Tafelberg site in Sea Point could fit 316 affordable apartments together with 120 market-rate apartments.

The Tafelberg site is six times smaller than the Somerset Hospital Precinct, which shows that the development proposal is not serious about providing a decent amount of affordable housing The other big problem is that affordable housing is not defined. Who will it be affordable for? At the end of the day much more housing can go onto the site – this is not realising the full potential of the site for poor and working class people.

5. Broken promises
Helen Zille and her Cabinet ‘promised’ that the land would be released on the specific basis that as much affordable housing as possible must be included.

6. Business as usual
Since the beginning of democracy there hasn’t been a single subsidised housing unit created in Cape Town’s inner city and surrounds. Cape Town’s spatial apartheid remains unchanged. The Somerset Hospital is perhaps the most important piece of publicly owned land for addressing spatial apartheid in Cape Town’s inner city, and this decision will have enormous impacts on South Africans for generations to come.

This development proposal shows that Helen Zille’s government remains uncommitted to achieving spatial justice in Cape Town and that it has been captured by a style of exclusive property development for the rich. The main idea of the development is to generate funds from the site to pay for social amenities ‘elsewhere’. This approach to the development of well-located public land ensures that ownership, occupation and use of central city land remains only in the hands of the rich. This corrupted approach entrenches spatial apartheid and contradicts provincial Government’s own policies.

7. Zille’s Rogue Department of Transport of Public Works
The applicant is the Western Cape Government’s Department of Transport & Public Works, through the Regeneration Programme – a programme aimed at developing strategic pieces of Provincially owned land. Despite spending millions of Rands on consultants and repeated studies, the programme has still not broken ground on a single site since it was established 7 years ago.

  •  This is the same government department that has to date never handed over any Provincially owned land to the Department of Human Settlements.
  • This is the same programme that attempted to unlawfully sell the Tafelberg property in Sea Point, even though the Department of Human Settlements requested the site to develop affordable housing. Tafelberg was sold to help pay for a R1,2 billion office block for Provincial government.
  • This is the same programme where Gary Fisher was both a senior public official responsible for land disposal and a private property investor and developer. Despite these serious conflicts of interest, there has still been no investigation.

8. De Lille rolls out red carpet for spatially violent developments
By law, the City of Cape Town must consider the principle of spatial justice. The City can place conditions that have to do with to the social impact of any development – whether on public or private land. The Mayor, Patricia de Lille can require any development to include some affordable housing. However, she has never used this power before because she believes land is for profit not for people!

What Should happen?

Zille must retract the application and show South Africans that she and her government are committed to advancing spatial justice. Zille must show that the Provincial Department of Human Settlements, as well the City and National Departments of Public Works and Human Settlements have been consulted on this vital development application.

The City of Cape Town must apply the principle of spatial justice to reduce spatial inequality and increase the supply of affordable housing in well-located areas. It should reject the application on the grounds that it is not sufficiently aligned with the City’s Integrated Development Plan, as well as other national legislation.

What can you do?

  • Download a pamphlet to share widely.
  • Objections to the development application must be made on or before 28 July 2017.
    Objections must be made to
  • You can find a briefing note which argues why the application should be rejected on legal and policy grounds. Feel free to use it to guide your own objection.
  • Organise your local community around this application that has a national impact.
  • Phone and write to your ward Councillor to raise this issue and demand that the City plays a more active role in regulating for inclusive urban development.
  • Phone and write to the Premier’s office and demand accountability.
  • Follow Reclaim the City on social media to keep up to date with all events and mobilisations