Although Saldanha Bay held its breath last week as a pricing spat between Kumba Iron Ore and ArcellorMittal threatened 4000 jobs in the town, government indicates the area is likely to see massive development over the long term.
The jobs at Mittal’s Saldanha plant are safe for now due to an interim agreement brokered between it and Kumba, and there is talk of another 40 000 jobs being created from scores of billions of rands to be invested in Saldanha as an Industrial Development Zone over the next 20 years.
Tammy Evans, spokesperson for Finance, Economic Development and Trade MEC Alan Winde, said plans included servicing the African west coast oil and gas industry; minerals processing; renewable energy production and manufacture; steel processing; and ship repair.
Although Saldanha has been touted as a potential development zone since the ‘90s, it appears the process is gathering steam.
Saldanha was initially targeted as a major oil and gas hub for the servicing of oil rig vessels, specifically for the West African oil industry. And in 2007, Saldanha Bay’s first R200 million fabrication yard for offshore oil and gas platforms was completed.
The next phase of development, which is still subject to feasibility studies, will involve the input of both local and foreign investors investing tens of billions of rands, with the Cape Argus last week pegging the figure at R83 billion.
According to Evans, a pre-feasibility report for an IDZ was conducted in 2008, and last month, the provincial cabinet gave its approval to run a full feasibility study, which is expected to be completed in March next year.
“Once this report has been completed, and all the issues weighed, a decision will be made as to whether or not to develop an IDZ in Saldanha… It will also scope the interest from the external companies operating in Saldanha, and the potential for job creation…environmental concerns must be taken into account and balanced with the potential for significant job creation,” she said.
Developers in the wings range from major oil conglomerates to solar power companies.
Foreign investors include an as-yet-unnamed oil consortium looking to invest about R8 billion to operate an oil and gas supply base. UK-based suppliers and installers of wind turbines, Aeolus Power apparently plan to invest R11 billion in renewable initiatives, and Dutch sustainable developer Robert Groeninx is believed to be planning to invest R2 billion to build a world-first solar-powered housing development of up to 6000 units.
“There will be a lot of green development in the IDZ (Industrial Development Zone), so a lot of big (Solar) companies will want to go to Saldanha Bay, said Groeninx.
He said industrial development in Saldanha would lead to thousands of extra jobs, thus creating the need for housing.
“This will be the first renewable city in the world with affordable housing for lower and especially middle income groups,” he said.
However, the ongoing industrial development in Saldanha Bay area, has been a major concern for environmentalists as the adjoining Langebaan lagoon is on the Ramsar list as an internationally important wetland.
Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve vice-chair Jimmy Walsh said the ecology of the bay was already under threat.
The 2008 State of the Bay report, compiled by Anchor Environmental services, stated that any further expansion around the bay would have a very detrimental impact, he said, and some impacts only came to light decades later.
“Our biggest concern is piece meal development in which the bigger picture is not looked at,” he said.
He said repeated requests for a study to determine the overall cumulative effects of development around the bay had been ignored.
“The province is currently busy with an Environmental Management Framework study which will give us guidelines going forward but a Sustainable Environmental Assessment study as never been done. There’s no baseline report,” said Walsh. – Fadela Slamdien, West Cape News