AS considerable time has elapsed since the poorly-attended public participation meeting at the Opera House on September 6, I request the opportunity of updating members of the public who are interested in following the progress of the project for a new block to the building.
It involves spending more than R20-million of taxpayers' money, provided by the public works department.
Responsibility for the poor attendance can be laid at the door of those entrusted with arranging advertising for the meeting. Firstly, the advertisements were too small, not at all prominent and were missed by most – even the most avid readers of our newspapers.
Secondly, no advance information was given to the media by the organisers, so as to inform and encourage those who would have wished to be there – and there were many.
Input, in the form of submissions from the community, has been received and noted by the practitioners involved in facilitating the heritage impact assessment (HIA), and it is believed attention has been paid to the concerns and suggestions submitted. Those who submitted their suggestions and requests should pay close attention to the outcomes in the weeks ahead, as phase two of the HIA is reached.
The second consideration of phase one, having been assessed and advised by an independent heritage practitioner from Cape Town, has been presented to a meeting of the local permit committee members who are voluntary representatives of the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority, based in Bhisho.
What is happening now is the consideration of the outcomes of this permit committee meeting, in tandem with the submissions from the public, to ensure that if the project does, indeed, go ahead, it will be more in keeping with the wishes and expectations of the public.
The "if" is dependent upon the outcomes of legal representations being made by the architects, to the courts of our land, for alterations to the title deeds of the Donkin Reserve, which space is being encroached on both up Whites Road and into the cliff face, to accommodate the new structure, as proposed.
Without this permission, building may not commence. It is believed that should this permission be granted and the project goes ahead, one of the many wishes of the public, that the two large trees on the "wedge" alongside the Opera House be left unharmed, will be respected, as recommended by the Cape Town consultant.
Other requests in the submissions handed in earlier this month, such as that the new block should be softer in style and more in keeping with the existing building, will be considered in phase two, along with the add-on in the form of an entrance portico, as it is seen to be brash and not adding to the ambience of our Opera House precinct.
One suggestion was rather than encroach on the Whites Road wedge, the extension/new block should be behind the backstage area in Chapel Street for ease of moving sets into the main building.
There have also been requests from the public who have been involved in the performing arts on the Opera House stage over the years that some of the funding be used to increase the size not only of the stage itself, but also the backstage area, which is believed to be extremely inadequate and small.
There are other needs within the Opera House such as refurbishing, and it is felt that spending all the money on the new block and the unnecessary new portico would be cavalier, to put it mildly.
Some of the funds could also be considered for a trust fund, to supply bursaries for aspirant performers and set construction students, for instance, in years to come.
From experience, the public is aware that maintenance and funding is seldom channelled from government on a regular or adequate basis.
The public would be well advised to keep a close eye on news of phase two, where its involvement will be crucial. This is your city, your Opera House and everything in our metro, in our country, is funded by the taxes you pay.
The lump sum has been allocated for use in promoting arts and culture. Make sure it is spent to your satisfaction.
Bernice Wright, DA councillor and heritage spokesman, Nelson Mandela Metro