Durban – Nine years after the provincial authorities revived plans for a new Durban airport and 30 years after it was first mooted by the national government, the project has received the green light, generating excitement in some quarters and misgivings in others.

Yesterday the department of environmental affairs and tourism gave the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) permission, subject to at least 80 environmental conditions, to build the King Shaka International Airport and the associated trade, support and agrizones at La Mercy, north of Durban.

The approval came just in time to ensure that the R5.8 billion airport, which would have initial capacity for 7.5 million passengers a year, was ready for the 2010 World Cup. The trade zone, which would be developed by the province, would cost R1.4 billion.

Zweli Mkhize, MEC for finance and economic development, said: “We certainly will now be able to finish in time. If [the decision] had come a few months later, we would not have been able to complete it in time.”

The Ilembe consortium, led by Group Five and WBHO, which was awarded the tender to build the airport, has been cooling its heels while waiting for the government’s approval.

Mike Upton, Group Five’s chief executive, said: “It [the record of decision] is one milestone. But the implications of the conditions still have to be assessed on the programme and design.”

The consortium was given permission to establish itself on the site in July, but construction could only begin once Acsa released the site after the department’s decision was made.

Conditions that the department have set include that an agreement regarding an access road from the N2 must be reached between Acsa and the SA National Roads Agency Limited before the road is built.

Other conditions relate to water management, waste management, and the storage of hazardous fuel and waste.

On the issue of noise, the department said Acsa should address noise through reducing the levels at the source and through land use planning.

Rohan Persad, the chief executive of the Dube Tradeport, which spearheaded the project for the provincial government, said yesterday: “This is a defining moment in the project’s history.”

But there were still some obstacles. One of which could be appeals against the department’s decision, which had to be lodged within 30 days.

The eThekwini municipality, which has an agreement with provincial government on issues related to noise effect, fuel transportation, waste water and road infrastructure, would scrutinise the decision.

Mike Sutcliffe, eThekwini city manager, said: “I hope the issues raised by the city have been addressed. If not, we will take it up.”

It has been agreed that some low-cost houses, which have less acoustic insulation than privately built homes, be considered for acoustic treatment, while others would be relocated.

Others that may take issue with the decision are residents in the areas close to the airport.

Ted Vickers, who lives in Mount Moreland, adjacent to the airport site, said the noise issue obscured concerns over road transport of fuel and congestion.

The decision was based on the fact that the airport would not lead to a substantial detrimental effect on the environment; the need for the project has been adequately demonstrated; it would result in socioeconomic benefits for KwaZulu-Natal and the country and the implementation of mitigation measures were considered adequate to limit detrimental effects.