eLan Group brings environmental awareness to property development, as Ruari McCallion learns from Patrick Kleu.
While everyone knows that South Africa is rich in plant life, animals and landscape, its heritage may not have been cared for as well as it could have been, particularly in the case of the countryÔÇÖs cities and even resorts. But that is changing, with the eLan Group leading the way.
One of our estates is built on a site that was originally a sugar cane plantation,ÔÇØ says Patrick Kleu, managing director of eLan Group. Sugar cane has been a valuable cash crop but it doesnÔÇÖt do much for the environment or the soil. ÔÇ£The estate rehabilitated around 430 hectares of agricultural land,ÔÇØ he explains. ÔÇ£All the plants there are indigenous to the areaÔÇöwe went back over one hundred years through the records in order to check. You can now see natural trees, grasses and plants, and wildlife like monkeys, mongoose, small buck (indigenous breeds, not fallow deer) have returned.ÔÇØ
This reclamation of the natural habitat was carried out in conjunction with the Kwa-Zulu Natal Wildlife Services. Other aspects of the environment have not been overlooked, either. ÔÇ£For instance we ensure that each house has a rain tank,ÔÇØ says Kleu.
The eLan Group, established in 1997 by Group CEO Mark Taylor, is based in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, where it employs around fifty-five people. Kleu describes Taylor as a visionary and someone with a real talent for marketing.
ÔÇ£He saw opportunities for development in northern KwaZulu Natal that others didnÔÇÖt,ÔÇØ he says. When one sees the details of the companyÔÇÖs developments in a brochure, itÔÇÖs hard to see how the opportunities could have been missed. The area has long, attractive beaches, vibrant inland landscape and is accessible to the workplaces in the cities and townships. But not everyone sees what is in front of them or understands how to capitalise on it.
The environment is a clear priority for the Group. It seeks to ensure that it is not damaging the natural habitats or ecosystems of the areas it develops and even has on its staff two former employees of KZN Wildlife Services to assess each development. Even though its emphasis is on building developments which suit the environment, it is undoubtedly a commercial organisation, building in the modern world for profit.
ÔÇ£We feel we go quite a long way in upholding our mandate to build environmentally sustainable developments,ÔÇØ says Kleu. ÔÇ£Our intention initially is to develop land, as opposed to the top structure. We put architectural guidelines in place and seek to move away from the traditional housing model to something greener. As we proceed, we try to find ways of doing things progressively better.
ÔÇ£We are finding natural ways of cooling the houses, such as running water over stone, rather than totally relying on air-conditioning. It was a method used one hundred years ago but it has been passed by, more recently,ÔÇØ he says. ÔÇ£WeÔÇÖre looking at more solar heating and using natural water sources and maintaining them, rather than piping water in. WeÔÇÖre looking at using natural building methods for the future; itÔÇÖs about going another step further.ÔÇØ
An example is Somkhanda Lodge and Residential Estate, which is just south of Jozini Dam, in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. Wildlife is a big themeÔÇöthe ÔÇÿbig fiveÔÇÖ game animals are not far away and tiger fishing is a big attraction. The reserve is fully supported by the WWF and has an abundance of wildlife. Both white and black rhino have already been introduced and the first black rhino calf was born recently in the reserve. The wildlife aspect of the due diligence has been completed and the reserve is a stunning example of natural Zululand with great potential.
All of eLanÔÇÖs properties are ÔÇÿgreenfieldÔÇÖ; however, hotel and resort developments as well as upmarket beachfront properties also feature. The Ruitersvlei Lifestyle Estate, situated in the Western Cape near Cape Town, is subdivided into ten agriculturally viable farms of between forty and sixty hectares and allows residents to own a wine farm without the hassle of managing their own vineyards. Those living on the estate receive an annual quota of their own branded wine, produced and managed by a privately-owned, co-operative wine business.
eLanÔÇÖs flagship development is Blythedale Coastal Resort. Also on the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, it is an integrated resort development comprising 5,000 upmarket residential units. More than 1,000 of these units form the social housing component, where rural community members may live and work. The residents of the social housing component will be first in line for jobs in the resortÔÇÖs many facilities, including the golf course, wellness centre, equestrian centre and hotels. This will effectively allow people from all walks of life to live together in one cohesive community.
Then there is the Worx Zone, located in the Umhlanga Ridge Town Centre. ÔÇ£This is an office development aimed at small companies with growth potential,ÔÇØ Kleu explains. ÔÇ£WeÔÇÖre familiar with the idea of renting offices in buildings with central business services; this takes it a step further. Instead of being tenants, businesses have the opportunity to buy their space and have access to a 650 square metre, state-of-the-art business facility. ItÔÇÖs something that hasnÔÇÖt been available before in South Africa.ÔÇØ
eLan is also directly involved with the community and the promotion of skills development. ÔÇ£We have established the eLan Foundation, a Section 21 [non-profit] company, which invests time in uplifting the communities weÔÇÖre involved with,ÔÇØ says Kleu. ÔÇ£It plans to educate people living around the areas we work in. At Simbithi Eco-Estate, for example, we have created around 1,000 long-term jobs. It will probably be ten times as many at Blythedale Coastal Resort, which is about an hour north of Durban.ÔÇØ
The eLan Group also sponsors the eLan Rugby Legends, a vehicle to help the poorer communities get into rugby and develop their life skills. ÔÇ£We have programmes with ÔÇÿbrand ambassadorsÔÇÖÔÇöcelebrities and sportspeopleÔÇöthat encourage the communities to get involved and to develop themselves.ÔÇØ A sporting school of excellence will be established at Blythedale Coastal Resort to achieve this.
The new South Africa shows a more friendly face to the world; and as eLan Group proves, it is not just skin deep. It is about engagement with its environment, communities, and the people who make them.