Conversion of Ysterplaat, Wingfield for ‘impractical’ housing


Converting Ysterplaat Air Force Base and Wingfield Army Base to low cost housing sites is theoretically possible but at this stage impractical and prohibitively expensive if all the burden is placed on the Department of Defense .

This is according to the director of the African Defense Review, Darren Olivier, who was commenting on the issue after repeated calls by political parties in the run-up to the November municipal elections for the state’s land to be converted into low-cost housing. price and other uses.

“Ysterplaat and Wingfield are certainly in ideal locations for low cost housing, and it may make sense to relocate the military units currently there to free up space for this. However, it would have to be a realistic proposal that has a plan for how to manage both the substantial cost of relocating these SANDF units as well as the Graaffs Trust’s restrictive rights on the ground, ”said Olivier.

“None of the proposals presented so far by any political party meet this standard, as all vaguely dismiss the issue of resettlement costs as a non-issue, when in reality it is a central and crucial issue that will make impossible for the Ministry of Defense to accept the “liberation” of the land for other purposes. In short, the cost of relocating units currently in Ysterplaat and Wingfield to other locations is so high, and the defense budget so limited, that if the DoD were forced to bear the costs, the inevitable impact would be the forced closure of units. This would mean a permanent paralysis of the Air Force’s search and rescue and maritime patrol capabilities in the province and a serious impact on the technical training of the Navy. “

Ysterplaat Air Base is home to 35 Squadron, which conducts maritime patrols with its fleet of C-47TPs, and 22 Squadron, which regularly uses its Oryx helicopters for search, rescue and firefighting. Having these capabilities in the region is important in light of South Africa’s maritime search and rescue treaties, which make it responsible for responding to air accidents in much of the Southern Ocean region. Wingfield houses the Navy Technical Training Unit and Supply Depot.

“Wingfield would be the easiest and simplest candidate for reuse, if only partially, given that a large part of the base is unused and therefore it would be possible to cut out this section for low-rise housing. low cost without having to move the existing one. naval installations. The only complication would be the conditions of the Graaffs Trust. It would also require less land and soil rehabilitation than Ysterplaat, ”said Olivier.

He noted that much of the land on which Ysterplaat Air Force Base and Wingfield are built was acquired by the government over 80 years ago from the Graaffs Trust for a nominal fee, subject to the restriction it either used for defense purposes or as a civilian aerodrome ”only. The Trust remains the holder of the pre-emptive rights and must give its approval for any other use of the land, whether for its sale, its use for low-cost housing or similar. In the absence of an agreement, he has a right of automatic reacquisition of the land, probably at the equivalent of the original nominal cost.

“The Graaffs Trust’s pre-emption rights to the land represent an issue that could dramatically increase the cost of its release for low-cost housing,” says Olivier. “For example, when the government wanted to explicitly rezone Acacia Park for residential use in 2006 because it had been built on part of Wingfield, it was forced to pay the Graaffs Trust around R 260 million in adjusted terms. inflation as part of a settlement. agreement to remove the restrictive covenant. Unfortunately, the current leadership of the Trust has been ambiguous about their intentions in the event of the land being released, the clearest indication to date being Helen Zille’s 2018 statement (as Prime Minister) that she ” had a meeting with Brett Moore, who represents the Trust, and he says the Trustees are perfectly prepared to work with the government to develop significant sections of the land precisely for the purpose we want. Exactly what Moore meant by ” important ”, and if being prepared to“ work with the government ”means freeing up the land, it will have an impact on the costs and the number of houses that could be built.”

Even more important to the South African National Defense Force is the cost and potential impact of relocating the SANDF units currently residing at AFB Ysterplaat and Wingfield and rehabilitating the sites for safe occupation, “both being totally unaffordable. within the framework of the current defense budget ”. Olivier believes.

“In the early 2000s, as part of a process that saw the SANDF close and return to dozens of government bases, the South African Air Force investigated the Ysterplaat closure and relocation of its assigned units, such as 35 Squadron, 22 Squadron. , 80 Air Navigation School and 2 Air Service Unit to alternative sites at Cape Town International Airport, Overberg Air Base and Langebaanweg Air Base. It was scrapped after discovering that only the initial costs to establish replacement facilities at all of these locations would be over R200 million, not to mention the many additional costs or rehabilitation. It has been estimated that resettlement costs, especially if rehabilitation is required, will now amount to over R 1 billion.

“A subsequent proposal to turn Ysterplaat into a public-private partnership as a civilian airport also failed, due to an inability to attract investors. Likewise, the Navy intended to move its facilities from Wingfield to Simon’s Town, but found the cost of constructing the replacement facilities unaffordable. It was also at a time when the SANDF benefited from a much larger budget than today, ”said Olivier.

“The worst,” he argues, is that “the SAAF’s initial planning to move away from Ysterplaat assumed that it would be able to expand into a section of the Cape Town International Airport owned by the Police Department. South African that 35 Squadron is currently using as an alternative. operating basis. This would have meant that there would have been no impact on search and rescue or firefighting response times, nor on the endurance and range of maritime patrols. But the now approved airport runway realignment and extension plans mean that is no longer possible and therefore the cost and impact of moving away from Ysterplaat will now be considerably higher.

The Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) had planned a major upgrade of Cape Town International, including a new runway, although those plans were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive reduction in ACSA income that it brought. In regards to.

“I firmly believe that the Air Force and Navy are both willing to relocate from these bases in order to meet the government’s housing needs, but they simply cannot do so with current funding levels. Not unless they simply abandon the bases and close units like the 22nd and 35th Squadrons, ”says Olivier.

“Because the re-use of these sites is clearly seen as important to both local and national government, the only practical solution that does not cause serious damage is for the relocation of SANDF from the two bases to be funded from government budgets. ‘others and national departments. This way everyone wins: large tracts of land are made available for low cost housing, SANDF is able to continue to provide essential services such as search and rescue, fire fighting. fire and maritime patrol in the region, and the cost can be distributed so as not to be too much of a burden on a particular department.

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