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Dec 16, 2011

Crossways project dubbed SA’s ‘town of the future’

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Construction has started at South Africa’s first green town, known as Crossways Farm Village, located on the edge of the Van Stadens river gorge, outside Port Elizabeth.

The village is expected to operate almost independently of the national energy grid and it will also be the first rural town fully integrated with an existing agriculture component, in this case a professionally run dairy farm, and one where future food security has formed an important component of the overall planning.

Earlier this month, Minister of Rural Devel- opment and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti oversaw the installation of all services for the first residential and industrial phases. All the industrial stands and 70% of the residential stands in these phases have been sold and construction of the first houses is expected to start by April next year.

The industrial stands, located some distance from the residential nodes, are intended for light cottage industries with a strong artisanal and agriprocessing character.

Architectural and property development firm CMAI founder Dr Chris Mulder was responsible for the design, planning and implementation of the R3.4-billion project.

Mulder, whose Thesen Islands project, in the Knysna lagoon, won two CNBC International Property Development Awards in 2007, says Crossways Farm Village will combine the bene- fits of a healthy rural existence with all the conveniences of sophisticated urban living.

Speaking to Engineering News, he notes that the specific area was chosen as it has such good farmland. “There is also good access off the N2 on a double lane freeway into Port Elizabeth, as well as the established Woodridge College, which has been in existence for more than 60 years and has a good curriculum.

“The existing rural village of Thornhill with 3 000 people, in the middle of nowhere, with no jobs in sight, was moved here 45 years ago. CMAI signed a legal agreement with the community of Thornhill about 2 km from Crossways, which will see a donation of R15-million out of our sales for upliftment and community projects,” he notes.

The coalition aims to create jobs and nurture training and participation in a number of smaller contracts on site, such as streetlight manufacturing, refuse collection by private entrepreneurs, maintenance contracts in the town, and many more.

“The whole philosophy of the entire project is to ensure the food security capability, that good agricultural land is retained, poverty is alleviated, jobs are created, contracts are made available to smaller operators, and to demonstrate how private initiatives can make a meaningful impact on rural development when the correct land laws are in place,” says Mulder.

“Now there is real hope for this almost 50-year-old abandoned community for employment, to become proud and independent and to provide for their children and to educate them. We want to demonstrate how we can take an old village, a remnant of the previous system in South Africa, and a community of 3 000 people and make them a vibrant part of a new rural town or a greater village and rural community,” he adds.

The town consists of 747 residential stands of varying sizes divided into neighbourhoods spread throughout the 563 ha site, of which more than half will be a conservation area.

Earlier, the Department of Economic Affairs, Environment and Tourism of the Eastern Cape as well as the national Department of Agriculture have approved the plans for the development without any preconditions.

Mulder says Crossways is expected to set the benchmark for green building practices and will be the most advanced town in South Africa because of its high-tech infrastructure.

“We plan to take the entire town of almost 800 stands off the national grid by means of photovoltaic technology, which will provide us with a total alternative energy plan.

“The implementation of this technology will be made possible by the fibre-optic data communication network which will be installed throughout the development. The alternative energy and energy-saving technology will be built into the town’s infrastructure from the outset, which means all owners will enjoy these benefits as standard features,” he explains.

Mulder notes the design of one of the new houses illustrates this approach well. “Some 80 solar roof panels will provide the full energy requirements of the house, storing the excess produced in an integrated bank of photovoltaic batteries with the capacity to provide the energy needs of the house for three days. Additional excess can be fed into the town’s own energy grid and be sold by the owner for use elsewhere.

“Rainwater harvested from the roof will be stored in three 1 000 ℓ tanks built into the structure of the house, while a unique heat-pump system will circulate pool water through the flooring system to heat or cool the building to reduce seasonal temperature variances.”
Mulder says the fibre-optic technology will serve as infrastructure for a wide range of services, from regulating the town’s energy grid to controlling infrared security systems and providing high-speed connectivity. “As the telephone system is also embedded in this technology, all calls within the town will be free.”

Mulder says that once the upgraded dairy farm with its stud herd is fully operational and generating profits, it will be ceded, debt-free, to the town.
“The townspeople will have access not only to the range of dairy products but also to an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, which will be commercially grown on the property.

“On our estate, the ranges of a golf course are replaced by 130 ha of organic grass under irrigation, our club members are 500 stud Holstein cows, mowing the fairways free and producing income, while our club house is a state-of-the-art milking parlour,” Mulder notes, tongue in cheek.

CMAI has also looked at developing similar estates, but Mulder says this has been quite challenging. “We are currently working on the same concept at two or three places. The first one, at Kurland, in the Western Cape, has been kept waiting by the Western Cape provincial government as it does not have a declared rural development policy or does not allow these types of developments outside their current urban-edge policies.

“We started working on Kurland, 20 km outside Plettenberg Bay, five or six years ago. Crossways Farm Village is based on this concept, and here we are undertaking construction, while, at Kurland, we are not even halfway through the planning application process. It saddens me immensely that the Western Cape planning authorities policy does not allow this [development],” he concludes

The company is also currently working on a similar agrivillage in Bloemfontein.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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