Mauritius is developing seven smart cities – at a cost of $3.5bn – that will be autonomous in renewable energy, water supply and waste management, sustainable, all without putting any pressure on the island’s infrastructure. Both local people and foreigners will work, live and play in one place, reducing the need for transport and mobility. Ten other projects are in the pipeline for 2016, setting the scene for a smart Mauritius.
At Mon Trésor, in the south of the island, sugar company Omnicane is building the first smart city of Mauritius – Airport City – on 400 hectares of land in the zone near the airport. A four-star business hotel, the Holiday Inn, is already completed. The company is now building 800 residential units, villas, townhouses, duplexes and apartments, business parks and commercial centres. On the western coast, another sugar enterprise, Médine, is working on its smart city dedicated to education with universities and schools. By 2025, the group expects to attract 5,000 students and, in the long term, around 25,000 people will live there.
“People travel hours daily to reach the office and back home. The kids are at school in one place and the spouse works in another. We’ll gather them at the same place in a smart city. The quality of life that a smart city offers will encourage them to go to work on foot or by bicycle. Shopping is also near,” says Gaëtan Siew, chairman of the State Land Development Company (SLDC) that oversees the project.
Speaking at the Mauritius Smart Cities 2015 Conference in Mauritius in October, Finance Minister Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo said he attaches great importance to the development of smart cities on the island “not just for the sake of creating jobs and boosting the construction sector but mainly to prepare for the future as Mauritius aspires to become a major economic power in the region.”
He believes the island has been stuck in the middle-income trap for the past 10 years. “The challenge is to reinvent the whole paradigm of Mauritius. So let’s reinvent the economy that was built on sugar, tourism, EPZ [export processing zones] and offshore. If we make it, we become one of the most developed countries in the region. If not, we stay a middle-income country,” he said.
For the Board of Investment (BOI) in Port Louis, the Smart City Scheme is an ambitious economic development programme designed to consolidate the island’s international business and financial hub by creating ideal conditions for working, living and investment. It is a new initiative to stimulate innovative scientific and technological activities, provide technology-driven facilities to the business community and create a vibrant city lifestyle.
“The concept paves the way for investors to develop and invest in a mix of commercial, leisure and residential uses; a combination of office, light industrial, education, medical and tourism clusters; high technology and innovation clusters; clean technology aimed at carbon and waste reduction, efficient transport, low-energyconsumption buildings; digital solutions; energy production and water management and utilities,” the BOI states.
A smart city is not a marketing campaign, a slick sales technique or an amusing political catchphrase, Paul Doherty, President and CEO of the digit group, told the Summit, but a series of solutions to a serious and urgent situation that the world faces today.
“Smart cities are emerging due to the convergence of market conditions, technology innovation, social wants and government needs and the migration to urban environment that has accelerated on a global scale that dwarfs any previous mass movement of people in history,” he said.
Vincent Chan How, consultant, Strategic Networking Partners and Consulting, believes a smart city increases efficiency and makes a positive environmental effect. “It improves security and health, making the city more livable and attractive, vital for the economy and attractive for citizens and social activities,” he said. This can also meet “the potentials of the highest sustainability for environment, community and economy and aims to efficiently use energy, to reduce costs and improve the environment through less pollution and by reducing greenhouse gases (GHG.)”
The Mauritian Smart City Scheme offers investors a package of attractive fiscal and nonfiscal incentives. They are exempted from payment of a number of taxes: income tax for a period of eight years; value added tax paid on capital goods; customs duty on import or purchase of any dutiable goods, other than furniture, to be used in infrastructure works and construction of buildings; land transfer tax and registration duty; and land conversion tax.
Any person, any entity including foreign companies and trusts, can acquire residential units in a smart city in Mauritius. A foreigner acquiring a residential unit costing above $500,000 and having made an investment of over $5m in Mauritius is eligible to a residence permit for himself and his family after a period of two years. Smart cities will not be reserved for the elite “as there’ll be jobs for everybody, locals and as well as foreigners, from the smallest to the highest,” according to Gaëtan Siew.
Moreover, 25% of the residences would be sold to locals and to the Mauritian diaspora, who will be exempted from tax on revenue for 10 years, allowed free importation of a car and will pay no registration fee for buying a home in the smart city. The construction of smart cities in Mauritius will need a few thousand hectares of land.
The impact of the land conversion on the sustainability of the agricultural sector in terms of food security is being questioned. But Energy and Public Utilities Minister Ivan Collendavelloo minimised the issue in Parliament in November. “The grade of the agricultural land being used for the smart city project ranges from moderately suitable to highly suitable for cultivation of sugar cane or food crops,” he said. According to him, reduction in sugar production would be limited to some 9,380 tonnes or only 2.3% of the island’s total annual sugar production.
However, Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, a professional environmental engineer at enviromnental consultants Delphinium, warns that smart cities may find their way on environmentally sensitive lands that need to be preserved for future generations.