Building boom and positivity follows St Francis Bay fire – feature
By: Bev Mortimer
From out of the ruins green grass is starting to grow beneath the 75 burnt houses ravaged in the horrific runaway fire on 11 November 2012. There is a hive of activity in St Francis Bay right now buoyed by a predominate wave of positive energy, good deeds and a boom in the building trade, that collectively are like blossoms bringing new hope and heralding prime fruit in the future.
The sad day , which left people destitute, saddened and angry has been seen as an opportunity for restoration – to turn the ruins into beautiful homes once again. Most residents and those associated with the town are upbeat and agree that there is real good coming out of all of this.
For one Kouga councillors – normally attacking their opposing political party colleagues – joined forces in a wonderful spirit of co-operation at the special Council meeting held in St Francis Bay last month, by making recommendations for improvements and supporting each other’s suggestions. The highlight was when it was agreed that the Kouga Municipality will waive any costs related to the submission and approval of building plans for those who lost their homes in the fire.
Another is that the municipal valuators are doing an interim valuation on the affected area. Currently the municipality has stopped with immediate effect the payment of monthly rates for victims of the fire. A statement said: “Owners should be aware that the normal process of appeals, etc, will be in place and once this process is finalised we will implement the new interim valuation (this could be around January 2013).
“For owners who have paid their full yearly rates already, they will receive a credit once the new interim valuation is implemented. All erven will be treated as if vacant with no buildings and will be charged availability fees. In other words, basic charges, etc, will fall away. Owners should note they might still receive consumption and basic charges with regards to services which have not been levied but consumed before the fire.”
A top builder in St Francis Bay said though it was very sad what had happened, the positivity of most locals and victims was overwhelming. He gave an example of a couple who lost everything in the fire but who are so upbeat about the future and living in St Francis Bay in a new home.
Their enthusiasm and determination to rebuild their homes and lives is echoed by many permanent residents and holiday home owners. The couple recounted that their decision to remain in St Francis was made easy by the wonderful people of the village and surrounding area. They say they have been overwhelmed by the support, sympathy and offers of help from friends, family and complete strangers.
Insurance companies have been exceptionally busy – not only helping those insured fire victims to receive their pay-outs, but also helping those who escaped the blaze. There are many home owners who realise they are under insured, plus there has been a flood of new clients.
Most residents agree that the fire was a wakeup call, that they need better cover to be prepared for any future disasters .As for the building trade most associated with this industry – from local plumbers, electricians, woodworkers, cabinet makers, interior decorators, architects, brick and cement suppliers, to painters and project managers – are swamped with work.
“Normally we are all gearing down to 15 December when the building trade closes for a month,” one builder wrote on FB. “But now I am working 16 hours a day and not complaining. I will be able to make money for Christmas.”
The sudden demand for supplies and builders has been considered by observers as an extremely good spinoff from the fire after a lean winter of poor business and discontent. Any development in the area is an investment and will only enhance the area.
“Once the area is cleared up, redeveloped and new homes are built there, this area of the canals will again be a great part of St Francis,” the builder said.
Port St Francis business owners who also experienced a bleak winter are looking forward to a good season since all holiday apartments and units plus several houses have been let following the fire. These visitors are expected to bring in much needed revenue to the area.
A letter from one holiday home owner, David Harpur, echoes others: “Let’s show the value of the insurance industry in times of crises by giving examples of the quantum of money going to be spent on rebuilding family homes, the creation of labour opportunities for a depressed building market, sales of replacement goods to place those insured in the position they were before this devastating fire.
“There could be a mini boom for builders and general suppliers of fixtures and fittings, built-in cupboards, fitted kitchen, furniture and bathroom fittings, and so on. Let’s gather and tell all those good stories as a way of building a really positive image of our wonderful industry and how it steps up in time of crisis to assist and rebuild people’s lives after such a disaster. Over to the intermediaries, loss adjustors and insurers to take this unfortunate event and maximise the positives for our industry.”
The municipality has revealed that the replacement value of the damaged structures is around R230-milion. How this was calculated: The structures that were damaged would have to be replaced equal 22 904 square meters. Building costs for these type of structures cost between R7 500 and R12000 per square meter. The municipality used R10 000 per square meter as the average.
And it’s all sytems go for a busy, event-filled festive season in St Francis Bay, despite the fire, a reporter for the SF Chronicle has found. The local tourism office plus most estate agencies and businesses believe the town will be largely unaffected by the tragic event.
According to the tourism office, there are still the beaches, footpaths, the river, wildlife and many functions planned, from social to sport, during the holidays.
There have been no significant cancellations following the fire. Kerry Clare of KC Properties, a letting agency, says her company has relocated tenants and property owners who lost homes in the fire, while rental spokesman for Chas Evertt, Melanie Mienie, says people still want to come to St Francis Bay.
Finally, but not least, the most heart-warming effect of the fire is that of the majority of the community bonding together, putting aside their differences and working together for the good of all. As one long-time resident said: “There will always be those who just want to do nothing but complain, who are looking to find fault and scapegoats for their losses.
“But they are in the minority. Most are thankful for the good that is collectively coming out of all of this.”
Several good projects were realised within days after the fire. At least three fundraising efforts were set up. One is the St Francis Fire & Rescue fund (SFFR) to raise money for fire-fighting and rescue operations in the town – to ensure these services and the rescue teams have the best equipment, training and clothing to help in any future disaster. This fund received a most welcome kick start donation of R30 000 from Chas Everitt H/O, plus a fund raising evening raised a further R7000. A Benefit Concert on 27 December will see proceeds from tickets going to the SFFR.
Another fund was set up by the Riparian Home Owners’ Association to provide relief and assistance for those who lost their homes – from providing accommodation, to securing temporary clothing, toiletries and other needed items. It has raised more than R109 000 so far.
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