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End of road for De Poort?

Various options are still being investigated for the future of the southern Paarl historical village De Poort, which has basically ground to a complete halt.

De Poort was built in 2005 with assistance of a R2,3 million grant from the National Lotto Trust as well as financial support from the Drakenstein Municipality to establish a wagon and cart museum, a coffee shop/restaurant and an information/educational centre on the municipal site between Turk and Pine Streets.

This would have been phase one of a development which was aimed at heritage tourism and the aim was to build and develop it into a full scale historical village.

But since construction was completed, development at De Poort has been at a virtual standstill.

The development was also marred by in-fighting between De Poort directors and the municipality, with the relationship between the two souring at one stage to the extent that the municipality, who’s land De Poort stands on, locked the gates to De Poort.

Negotiations however followed, re-opening the site, but once again, the development could just never get off the ground to become a viable entity.

De Poort generated a meagre income to try and cover basic costs by renting out the area to for example the circus and the Strooidak Church’s annual meat festival.

The festival has since moved to a new and more “appropriate” site, leaving De Poort without much needed income.

There is speculation that the Drakenstein Municipality is considering the sale of this piece of very valuable land in Paarl for development purposes.

It appears De Poort has been a white elephant from the beginning.

Lauren Waring, director for planning and development at the municipality, has indicated that progress with the De Poort project is not satisfactory to the municipality and few of the initial objectives of the project have been achieved.

This has led to informal discussions with De Poort about the fact that it would be in the broader community’s interest if the municipality took over the management of the project.

She added that they are however unanimous about what the premises should be used for; a heritage and tourism centre in collaboration with external role players; the exhibition and depiction of the wagon making industry of the valley and various other facilities that fit in with the tourism and heritage components and which include recreational areas.

“The municipality has been in negotiations with the De Poort board for some time, and the future plans will fit in with the three core activities outlined above,” said Waring.

“The idea is to maintain as much as possible other activities that are currently practiced at De Poort and contribute positively to the purpose of the project.

“All activities must fit into an overall project plan that will need to be compiled.”

Waring added that the municipality is also currently putting together an Urban Design Framework for De Poort and the immediate environment.

“The idea is further that the public will be involved in the future through a permanent advisory committee of external role players, which will be representative of the broader community.

“We believe the project will result in positive outcomes for Drakenstein over time, especially in areas of critical importance to all our residents, namely: local economic growth, job creation and integration.”

Chairperson of the De Poort board of directors, Cas van Wyk, said that when the new board was elected last year they decided to put the past behind them and establish a new relationship with the municipality.

“We also carefully reviewed the original agreement, valid for 25 years, between the municipality and De Poort’s board in detail, and found that according to this agreement most of it has never been complied with and can in no way be honoured in the future.

“This has brought us to another dilemma, namely the viability of De Poort.

“For the past 10 years De Poort has not been able to keep head above water financially and we realise that only the municipality can help with this.

“The land and buildings in any case belong to them.”

The current board will now change into an advisory board that will eventually be supplemented by additional community experts to make the council representative of the community.

“The hardest part is now at the door, it’s to get the thoughts, purses and hearts in the same place,” said Van Wyk.

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