At a full council meeting held yesterday (7 July), council approved the sale of a portion of the Harare Gardens to African Sun (PVT) Ltd in a deal that is expected to raise $1.76 million for the City.
African Sun – who co-own Crown Plaza Hotel with Legacy Group – have for some time been seeking to acquire two hectares stretching north into Harare Gardens in order to upgrade their facilities to meet world class standards. The land includes an area adjoining Les Brown Swimming Pool and another measuring 2,050 square metres currently being used as a car park.
The proposed sale of the portion of the Park has divided councillors forcing council to reject the sale on previous occasions. However, yesterday’s vote went in favour, albeit very narrowly, with 18 councillors voting in favour of the sale and 14 against.
It is not clear yet if the notice of sale will be put up for public objection, but this approval means that the hospitality group is now poised to proceed with its plans to expand the Crown Plaza Hotel to include a state-of-the-art conference centre, open air restaurant, bar and a satellite kitchen.
In a recent presentation to council’s Finance and Development Committee, African Sun and Legacy Group also undertook to upgrade all public areas within the park including construction of a walkway (sky walk) to link facilities, to refurbish the National Art Gallery including sponsorship of local artists, and rehabilitation of Les Brown Swimming Pool.
“The Hotel also undertook to relocate and modernise the Entertainment Recreational Stage further with the Harare Gardens, construction of a Health and Racquet Sports facilities and incorporating Les Brown Pools, support and assistance with upgrading and maintenance of the whole of Harare Gardens and ablution facilities, (and) upgrading the surrounding area of Park Lane,” reads minutes from the presentation that was done on 23 May.
However, besides the 14 councillors who voted against the sale, other stakeholders such as the Harare Residents Trust have criticised the decision, saying that the development will have negative social and environmental effects on the City.
“The council must consider that Harare Gardens serves as a recreational facility and breathing space for the City. Those firms who want spaces should be allocated land on the city outskirts,” said Sharon Magodyo of HRT. “City of Harare has no clue how to get out of their current situation. They are stripping the City of its most valuable immovable assets in order to benefit only those directly connected with council. Council management have found another way to benefit from asset stripping, and are using councillors to do it, as councillors want to be seen to be proactive in addressing council workers’ salaries which have not been paid for six months. The solution is to rid council of its many redundant employees, and to improve transparency and efficiency. The HRT believes that Harare Gardens must be preserved for future generations,” she added.
Kudzai Chatiza a local government expert was quoted by a local weekly newspaper in April saying that selling part of the Harare Gardens was not a wise decision.
“It is an open space, a breathing space of the city which should not be tampered with. When the founding fathers of Harare created it, they knew it would serve a special purpose and I do not think anything has changed,” said Chatiza.
Harare Gardens is a popular recreational park offering sitting space, entertainment facilities, and a restaurant. Environmentalists also emphasise that open spaces such as the Park serve as carbon sinks to absorb toxic gases from traffic in cities.
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Image: View of the Crowne Plaza from the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe.
Image Credit: Baynham Goredema