Half of the land allocated to Harare businessman Kenneth Sharpe’s company, West Property Group, for development of a $100 million emporium in the leafy suburb of Borrowdale is not suitable for property development because the area is a wetland.
The local private company partnered Harare City Council for the project, while South African firm, McCormick Property Developers, with extensive experience in building eminent complexes in Africa, would undertake take the actual construction.
Only about 9,7 hectares out of 18,34 hectares of the piece of land on Ashbrittle Vlei can be used for the development of property, but even then, strong objections have been raised against this assertion, which authorities claim has scientific backing. The matter sparked heated debate in Parliament recently amid serious concerns that going ahead with the construction of the multi-million dollar emporium will seriously compromise Harare’s ecosystem.
The historic development would see Zimbabwe boasting the largest commercial development in Africa, also set to become the biggest shopping centre (92 000 square metres) once completed); the second of its kind in the region, after South Africa.
Already, the developers say 75 percent of the space at the planned mall has been taken by reputable South African retail giants that include Shoprite Edgars, Truworths, Game and Mr Price.
The objections over suitability of the site for property development were raised by Mabvuku legislator James Maridadi and Harare West Member of Parliament Jessie Majome who disputed claims by Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri that while most of the wetland was not habitable, part of it could be used for human habitation.
The project was stalled in its initial stages after the State environment regulator opposed the idea, but the developers said the intervention of the City of Harare resulted in them getting the development permits.
The country’s hydrological network includes numerous lakes and rivers and its associated wetlands. EMA has on several occasions raised the red flag over continued allocation of wetlands for development, saying this will cause problems in the future.
According to Maridadi, the Ashbrittle Vlei in Borrowdale, which Government also approved as part of an out of court settlement following termination of the Airport road dualisation contract, after a dispute with developer Kenneth Sharpe, had 9,7 hectares allocated for development of residential and shopping mall.
The low uptake of residential stands on Ashbrittle, Maridadi said, was evidence that it did not matter that an Environmental Impact Assessment had been done by the ministry or the Environmental Management Authority, it was still not suitable for human habitation.
In Zimbabwe, wetlands cover about 4,6 percent of the land.
According to EMA, protected major wetland areas include Victoria Falls, Driefontein Grasslands, Mana Pools, Lake Chivero, Monavale Vlei, Chinhoyi Caves and Cleveland Dam, among others, and Government says at least 26 wetlands in Harare are protected.