Riverfields a "trendsetter" as Ekurhuleni becomes Africa’s first aerotropolis

Posted On Tuesday, 24 November 2015 22:58 Published by
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During the 1980s, much of the land between Johannesburg and Tshwane stood vacant. Farms, coupled with just a handful of factories, dotted the 60-odd kilometre highway stretch spanning the two cities.

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Fast forward to 2015, it’s hard to imagine that same stretch of the N1 traversing barren veld, opines Gauteng Roads and Transport MEC Ismail Vadi, noting how rapid development in areas such as Midrand and Centurion have merged Johannesburg and the capital into something of a single megalopolis.

Right now, he observes, countless development projects around the R21 highway – and beyond – could see Tshwane and Ekurhuleni also merging into one in less than two decades.

Riverfields, a 1 900ha mixed-use development in Ekurhuleni, is one of the major players in this regard and “a trendsetter”, according to Vadi on the occasion of the opening of an R80-million underpass, whose construction started last April, just north of OR Tambo International Airport and south-east of Thembisa.

The R21/Albertina Sisulu link was identified as a development corridor by Ekurhuleni – the municipality where the development and Africa’s largest airport are located – which recently unveiled its roadmap to becoming the continent’s first aerotropolis. That project aims to help Ekurhuleni leverage economic benefits from its airport city status the same way that the likes of Dubai and Hong Kong, among others, have.

For Vadi, the underpass is a step towards that. Constructed by JT Ross and Erasmus family-owned Riverfields, the 100m underpass will facilitate convenient access between different parts of this huge area that spans industrial zones and residential areas. That means that people (and goods) travelling within Riverfields do not have to do so via the hitherto bisecting R21, says Ekurhuleni Mayor Mondli Gungubele. When completed, the development will include 15000 mixed-income residential units and exemplify a live-play-work community, says Riverfields director Lardus Erasmus. There are already 1000 units completed (and occupied), he adds. A yet-to-be-built regional mall could open its doors as early as 2019. “We’re in discussions with retail developers,” he says.

Further, global brands such as parcel shipping specialist DHL, a German firm, and agricultural equipment maker John Deere of the US have also set up shop here. So have DB Schenker, Jonsson and Würth.

Added to the residential units and business and industrial sites, the development will also comprise a 250-bed hospital, schools, hotels and retail space, Erasmus says, explaining that wetlands running through the development are being rehabilitated and will be used for recreational purposes.

Turning to the residential units, he expects prices will span R500000 in the lower-end and a few million rand for swanky up-market pads.

Erasmus expects that the mall will catalyse and add allure to Riverfields, allowing it to push to the next level, but adds that it could take 15 years for the total rollout of the development at which point economic benefits will be obvious.

Citing independent research, Riverfields’ press office says the project will result in an overall R29-billion investment spurring a R68-billion economic benefit. Erasmus predicts this will pay off handsomely for Ekurhuleni, which will benefit from taxes while creating 150000-200000 jobs. This bodes well for the municipality that is on an aggressive drive to assault poverty, observes Gungubele.

While lamenting the relic of apartheid, with so many people living in poverty in Ekurhuleni (a microcosm), Gungubele – lauded for his business-friendly attitude – sings praises for Riverfields’ role in economic development. Just days before launching the underpass, on November 20, the mayor presented a much-awaited 30-year Ekurhuleni Aerotropolis blueprint which he describes as “a bold commitment as a show of force and demonstration of our resolve to change the lives of our communities. We are declaring fresh war to poverty, joblessness, unemployment and the inequalities of the past.”

Gungubele holds up Riverfields as a “practical demonstration” of what the aerotropolis project seeks to achieve. “Riverfields is going to be a mixed-use development – it brings to life the concept of live, work and play,” he says, noting other multi-billion projects to the north of OR Tambo. “In 15 to 20 years, this R21 development corridor will look quite different.”

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 22:58

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