The inside story of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

Review of The Waterfront Story by Peter de Tolly

Cape Town’s former deputy city planner, Peter de Tolly, submitted the following review of The Waterfront Story (based on the role he played in the early years, his interests and his priorities).  The nature of a book and the restrictions on space do not allow everything that happened to be included, so we are grateful for his efforts in expanding the story to include in the limitless world of cyberspace, where it is indexed by search engines for posterity. — Author

Generally: I have read The Waterfront Story and it tells an interesting story of a very special place. It contains a lot of information on the V&AW’s history and evolution as a rehabilitated place, and as a business. This it does discursively, in a chatty and visually appealing way. It clearly is designed to communicate to a non-academic audience. It largely steers clear of controversy. As such, it is not an urban history of the V&AW and its contexts – physical, institutional, cultural, and political – in any academic sense. Clearly, this it was not intended to be.

Peter de Tolly was enthusiastic about the potential the V&A provided with links to the city. Not all were realised though.
Peter de Tolly was enthusiastic about the opportunities the Waterfront provided for links to the city. Not all were realised though.

On the Structure: Given the attention that has been given to the organisation of the book, it is surprising that the book just ends precipitously, as opposed to discussing the possible futures based on the use of the unbuilt floor area.

Basis for my comments: The following comments/criticisms stem from my involvements as an active, ongoing participant, from my return from Toronto in 1980 to join the then City of Cape Town that July, through to when I was seconded in 1996 to the Cape Town 2004 Olympic Bid Company to prepare the Olympic Plan. During this time, together with various colleagues I was very involved with the planning for Granger Bay and with the many attempts made to convince central government to give the historic Victoria & Alfred waterfront area back to the city. My views and planning approach stem from my experience over seven years of coordinating four levels of government in planning the future of Toronto’s Central Waterfront.

Inevitably, my views and memories of the early days of Granger Bay and the V&AW will differ with yours, which I see as stemming from our very different roles.

Your book is your view of the waterfront story. I wish you had included more ‘story’. I think that the book would have been enriched if you had spread your interviewing (Author’s Preface) more widely. You outline the sequence of key events during the ‘80’s leading up to the launching of the new V&AW Company on 24 November, 1988. In between were some significant events and products. You briefly mention the City’s 1985 report The Development Potential of Cape Town’s Historic Waterfront on page 29, showing its cover. It was for its time an unusual document in the way it analysed the business potentials/implications of rehabilitating the historic waterfront. The report was not simply one produced by Council officials. It benefited from the active participation of The South African Property Owners association (SAPOA), the Federated Hotel Liquor and Catering Association of South Africa, the Fisheries Development Corporation and Irvin & Johnson. Surely, to bring people together from those organisations and from Council would yield rich oral history!

From the formation of the new company through 1989 and 1990, the demands on Council’s officials and on the V&AW’s planners, urban designers and other professionals was acute. Getting David Jack, Ken Sturgeon, myself and a few others together would be both revealing and entertaining about those times, what they demanded from us and how we achieved the results we did in what was an extraordinarily short amount of time?

Omissions in Milestones on the road to V&AW: This useful ‘snapshot’ section on pages 28 and 29, has omissions born of its abbreviated format.

1984: Your 1984 ‘box’ describes Mayor Sol Kreiner’s setting up a Mayoral Steering Committee “in the face of the stalling project”. The first meeting of this committee was on 5 September 1984. It was preceded by a meeting on 3 May 1984 which Mayor Sol Kreiner convened between City and SATS officials. That was followed by a lunch with the Minister of Transport and the General Manager of SATS. Mayor Kreiner was very persevering on the issue of the Victoria & Alfred Basins, and he had the full support of his planning and engineering officials. We all knew that we would need to continue to inform and persuade SATS that change was inevitable. The word ‘stalling’ does not convey what was actually happening at the time.

The Rating of State Properties Act created a new impetus for change as unused harbour and railway land in an urban area could be subject to paying rates.

1985: You show the cover of the City’s November 1985 report: The Development Potential of Cape Town’s Historic Waterfront, outlining the contents of this submission to the newly formed “Burggraaf Committee’. You completely neglect to say that it was a crucial input to that committee, eventually persuading Arie Burggraaf to recommend the rehabilitation of the Victoria And Alfred areas for new mixed-use development.

[Author: Arie Burggraaf and Fuzz Loubser (head of SATS Business Development Division) had considerable input into the book and read the drafts.  They informed the focus I presented.]

The milestones report, drawing on expertise from SAPOA and other such organisations in the tourism industry, contained fully costed proposals. It took a very different approach from the Granger Bay proposals:

  • It realised that the real economic potential was utilisation of the historic harbour.
  • It could be done without negative impacts on the fishing and shipping industries.
  • Retention of the working harbour and heritage would be major contributors to a successful development

The outcome of this report deserves mention by you.

Granger Bay Project Assessment 19821982: For instance, 1982 was more than the Laingsburg floods in so far as Granger Bay is concerned. March 1982 saw the publication of the City’s report: Granger Bay Project Assessment.

This report methodically assessed the “Granger Bay Waterfront Development, Report 2, dated January 1981. It exhaustively examined the Granger Bay proposals contained in Report 2 and it discussed the Victoria Basin and the need for linkage to the CBD. To illustrate this potential, it showed a very imaginative UCT student scheme.

This report which was adopted by Council contained recommendations that were to inform all subsequent City participation in the planning for Granger Bay and the Victoria Basin areas. Recommendation 2.4 refers to long-term objectives that explicitly address the need for the Granger Bay and Victoria Basin areas to be linked to the western part of the central city.  “The dockland should combine compatible commercial activities with residential and recreational activities to ensure a rich and diverse environment. For example, the small fishing boats in the Alfred Basin should remain to ensure that this part of the dockland remain a working harbour accessible to the public…”

Recommendation 2.5: “The Council should inform the Minister of Transport of the evident desirability of linking the Granger Basin area with the Central Business District by the rehabilitation of the Victoria Basin and land to the south, and that I be authorised to discuss this with officials of the South African Transport Services”.

Numerous meetings with SATS harbour staff ensued albeit with limited results because their official attitude at that time was that the Victoria Basin area was for port purposes. I had meetings with Brian (Maginot Line) Whitfield, the then Harbour Engineer, the dates of which are in my diaries of the time. Maginot Line was our nickname for Whitfield as he really believed that the forces of change could be held at bay. Arie Burggraaf was to prove him wrong.

The City’s 1982 Granger Bay Project Assessment report deserves to be slotted into your book.

1988: This was a momentous year.

February saw the newly formed Waterfront Working Group meeting.

You state that at a March meeting with Transnet, City Officials “wanted to drive the project”. That this was “turned down”. I think that you need to revisit Appendix 1A of the Milestones report which contains a chronology of waterfront development 1971-1985. The events of 1985 are more nuanced than your single statement.. A sequence of meetings was held between City Officials and SATS officials during the year. David Jack, Larry Aberman and I met with the Burggraaf Committee on 9 August.

In April I was invited to a SA Harbours Conference in Sun City to present a paper entitled: Redevelopment of Cape Town Harbour: A Two Continent Local Authority Viewpoint. This was very well received. It’s conclusions bear repeating for what they said at that time:

“Cape Town is now faced with some of the problems and opportunities of other western port cities. It has a mix of facilities developed over 300 years, in response to changing needs: sail, steam, passenger and break/bulk cargo, containers and piping of liquid bulk commodities. As the harbour has grown so has the city adjacent to it. With that growth and change has come the belief that urban waterfronts formerly committed to purely industrial use should be  reclaimed for more diversified activities planned to attract people seeking recreation and entertainment as well as opportunities for distinctive residential environments.

“Granger Bay, Victoria Basin and the land that connects them to the Central Business District provide challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed and resolved now, drawing from the history and experience in South Africa as well as from overseas”.

1988 saw Rudi Basson take over as Port Manager and he brought a completely different mind-set to his predecessor.

In May, the then transport minister Elie Louw accepted Arie Burggraaf’s recommendations. These were:

  • Recreational use of water areas only at Pierhead
  • Flooding of lower Tank Farm should be considered
  • Endorsed proposed land uses for Pier Head area
  • Housing etc on Upper Tank Farm
  • Include Portswood Road strip
  • Use Dock Road areas to link City to Waterfront
  • Development of Granger Bay

According to you the Minister’s acceptance was with the “directive that development should start as soon as possible”. One has to wryly observe that it was a bizarre directive given government procrastination over many years.

The City had in 1988 acted proactively by already initiating a number of transport studies with the V&AW in mind. One dealing with the Power Station site and surrounds involved Hawkins, Hawkins & Osborn. The other was a Pre-Feasibility Study for a CBD-Waterfront Transit System in Cape Town. The City was also considering how to deal with the planning of the new Victoria & Alfred Waterfront areas, in terms of plan approvals, zoning and institutional arrangements. These actions are omitted by you.

1988 also saw the publication by the City of a couple of Cape Town Historical Walks publications.  This one was designed to bring the public into the historic waterfront areas.

Historic Walks brochure
Pier Head historic walk

The new company, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (Pty) Ltd. was formed in September and launched publicly on 24 November. All of this period is excellently covered in Rory Birkby’s The Making of Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

Waterfront 1.0: The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront becomes a reality

Thank you Arie Burggraaf as at least one of your three success factors recognises the contributions of the City Council: “City Council created new processes to realize the project …”

I once wrote in an article entitled Cape Town’s Central Waterfront, published in the May-June 1992 issue of Architecture SA: “The V&A did not just happen. Market forces did not magically transform the V&AW on their own. The V&AW happened because of a City Council-derived process that inspired the planning and design; because of up-front financial commitment by Transnet, because its management and Board understood what makes for successful waterfronts, and because the City Council has been co-operative and facilitative.”

During this time, the Cape Town City Council was a constant, very positive force: in the decision of the then central government to commercialise its ports and harbours, in the creation of the V&AW, in its early planning and development, and through setting up planning, financing and management arrangements that have stayed the course over the evolution of the V&AW until today. These contributions are readily available.

You would never know this from your book.

Timeline:  This very useful graphic could add one very important contextual date: 11 September 2001. Following these attacks governments world-wide adopted measures to protect maritime transport and ports against terrorism. The Cape Town public could no longer enjoy its historic access to Duncan Dock. Thank goodness that the V&AW rehabilitation happened when it did.

Start small in the biggest possible way:  There are omissions and inaccuracies in this section. For instance, you make no mention of the City’s Draft Contextual Framework for Cape Town’s Central Waterfront in September 1988.  This report was adopted by the City Council on 1989-09-28.

This report was broad in its focus. The V&AW was put into the context of a larger geographic area, where opportunities and needs for change were identified. (Many of these disappeared after 11 September 2001, as mentioned above). It defined the land-use and transport contexts to the V&AW. It also contained a policy framework for the central waterfront and its sub-areas, starting with the V&AW. The following are the policies contained in the Contextual Framework report:


The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area:   Without this Council-adopted report and its sub-area policies, there would have been no basis for the new company to proceed with its planning, and for its first planning product, the V&AW Development Framework report. These policies guided the V&AW’s planners in the preparation of not only the Development Framework, but the Precinct Plans that then ensued. Also, the City’s planners and development control staff used these policies to evaluate the V&AW proposals.  I do think that these policies should be encapsulated in one of your snap scans.

The late Ivor Prinsloo in his article entitled “The Persistence of Vision” in Aquapolis 3-4 2000, Cape Town where Africa’s two oceans meet, summed up a primary focus of the Contextual Framework. He wrote: “The City Council of Cape Town (CCC) published a Contextual Framework in 1989, which shapes the city in the greater context with the theme of an integration between mountain, city and sea.”

This section of the book focuses on ‘The Development Framework & Package of Plans’. This misconstrues the sequence of what actually happened. The Development Framework was preceded by the Package of Plans. It had to be because prior to the Package of Plans being adopted by the City Council, the new V&AW Company would have had to prepare some form of master plan in accordance with the then Town Planning Scheme and Provincial Planning Ordinance.

I know because I was there and was responsible for the development of the Package of Plans. Rory Birkby in his chapter ‘The Package of Plans and Heads of Agreement’ gets it right. Other than his “The Package of Plans was largely the work of the Deputy City Planner, Peter de Tolly….”  I assume that the ‘largely’ was because I was assisted by colleagues in Council, and by Ken Sturgeon of MLH, but the basic concept of an inter-locking hierarchy of plans, giving predictability to the authorities and direction and flexibility to the land-owner and developer, was mine.

I developed the procedure as a result of the experience I had in Toronto. One aspect of this work was being part of the evolution of the planning for Harbourfront, a Federal Government predecessor to the V&A W. Toronto had a somewhat Byzantine zoning scheme (as did Cape Town) and I watched with great interest as Harbourfront’s planners wrestled with how to somehow break free of it. I applied lessons learnt.

Regarding the planning of the V&AW, I have written: “The solution was a new planning procedure, called the ‘Package of Plans. Following on from discussions with the Company’s planning and urban design consultants which resulted in an agreed-on way forward, I sent them a letter dated 1989-07-14, in which I wrote: “… that a package or hierarchy of plans needs to be developed as part of a Master Agreement between the City, the V&AW Company and SATS which will cover planning, servicing and financial matters. The key planning need is to meet the agreement condition of the SATS Act No. 65 of 1981; as well as to provide the V&AW Company the flexibility it needs operationally; to form the basis for the marketing, lease or sale of land by the Company; and to form a set of management tools by which the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area will be planned, developed and managed over time.”

The procedure was designed to have broader applicability to state land holdings elsewhere. ‘This approach was designed to ensure that development of state land, be it either for operational or commercial purposes, would be positively integrated into the structure and form of the adjacent city, and into its management. It sought to reconcile the key interests of each of the public and private sectors (the landowner, the local authority, prospective investors and developers, and the public generally) It created a set of tools by which land could be allocated, marketed, leased, sold and managed by government on the basis of agreed objectives and policies; by which land could be integrated legally and physically into the adjoining municipality; and by which the private sectors interest and involvement would be attracted and creatively focused.”

Many involved with the V&AW over the years have commented on how essential the procedure was to the V&W’s success; Piet van Zyl and Neil Schwartz are only two examples.

Your book refers to the Planned Urban Development (PUD) system, and to Cardiff Bay, Wales. “In the USA, major projects follow a Planned Urban Development (PUD system, and the Waterfront modelled its approach on that.” It did not. I drew no inspiration from PUD precedent, nor from Cardiff, of which I was unaware.  

[Author:  David Jack was very aware of the overseas precedents and MLH Architects & Planners was appointed to pursue an alternative to a Master Plan.  The V&AW Development Framework was based on Cardiff Bay’s.  I assumed that you would have known about wider overseas precedents but it is to your credit that you drove your process based on your experience in Toronto.  The last major development in Cape Town’s CBD was the Foreshore which had a Master Plan — with all its shortcomings.  The City refers to these shortcomings in the Preliminary Comments on the Draft Report: V&AW Development Framework.]

You write: “Peter de Tolly…worked with Ken Sturgeon at MLH Architects & Planners. Using what was happening overseas, they evolved their own system which De Tolly named the Package of Plans Process.” 

This is not true. I drew up the Package of Plans, with its components – Contextual Framework, Development Framework, Precinct Plans, and Site Development Plans, for each of which I outlined the contents. I sent Ken letters containing my thoughts over some months and we worked through what he thought would work for the V&AW, as I did, with my colleagues for the city. You must remember that the City early on set up an Inter-Departmental (Peter Lever and Mike Marsden, representing the finance and engineering specialisms) Waterfront Working Group which I chaired, and also a Waterfront Planning Group in the Town Planning Branch (when I was Director of Planning). Without this genuinely collegiate approach in difficult circumstances, I doubt that we would have been able to move as quickly as we did. MLH made a really significant contribution to the Package of Plans procedure with the diagram they developed, which you use on page 36, as well as with the ongoing suggestions and criticisms that I received. There were many in the Town Planning Branch who contributed, notably Larry Aberman.

You may wish to refer to the paper I wrote for SAPOA, published in SAPOA NEWS December 1991, entitled Optimising government-owned land. In it you will find my explanation of why the procedure was developed and how it is seen to be applied.

You remark on how the Package of Plans procedure has been used for other developments. This is very much the case, and the procedure has now been incorporated into both the City of Cape Town’s and the Western Cape Government’s regulatory schemes, to be a mandatory requirement for certain types of developments.

As an amusing aside on the pervasiveness of the P of P process, an architect has been retained to design a new family house up in the vineyards overlooking the Groot Drakenstein Mountains. Responding to the plans submission, the Winelands Municipality has asked for a Site Development Plan!

At the time in 1989, we argued that “Properly undertaken the ‘Package of Plans’ approach should provide both strategic direction and operational flexibility, and result in development of quality and appropriateness, which takes full account of its special location, conditions, environment and history, and which becomes integrated over time into its adjoining city.”

The bulk of your book from ‘Making it happen’ could be said to show that the above statement has been realised.


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