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Monday Jun 29, 2015

'Future of towns and cities depends on new planning act'

On July 1, 2015 the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (Spluma) comes into operation. As with many earthquakes the legislation, while long overdue, has arrived largely unannounced, but its ramifications will be seismic.

Spluma defines where and how we live now, and how we might live in the future. It lays down the process by which businesses and homes are built, and what towns and cities will look like. It is fundamental in creating a desirable place to grow and be oneself. Its chief tools are land use management schemes, and the future defining spatial development framework.

The act is what you would use if you wanted permission to build that granny flat on your property. It would also be the legislation which you would use to object to the five storey granny flat with the swimming pool on top that the neighbour built. The act defines how and where suburbs should become more dense and what land uses should be permitted. It defines how and where our towns and cities should grow and what that development should be. It also lays down the process for dealing with undesirable or illegal land uses.

The act replaces a slew of contradictory policies such as the provincial town planning ordinances and the Development Facilitation Act that have directed and confused the development of our towns and cities. Responsibility for making decisions on the land uses that will be permitted now sits with municipalities.

Provinces and sector departments can no longer second guess the decisions of a municipality relating to the change of land use. The act reinforces and protects the spatial plans of a municipality that must align with the provincial and national development intent. It also clarifies and strengthens development control processes, as well as streamlining existing planning process and responsibilities.

Efficient and effective planning is critical for social and economic development. The creation of certainty through well-considered, rapid decision making on development applications is a priority in order to ensure that construction can meet demand, and to ensure that our towns and cities can become better places to live, work and play in. Active engagement with communities, by municipalities in order to address planning challenges will be critical.

Municipalities need to take their elevated role in relation to planning, and ensure that they effectively leverage this legislation to achieve much-sought spatial transformation.

There will be difficulties in the roll out of the act. Municipalities have been criticised for delaying new development, being inconsistent in the decisions made on development applications and for replicating the spatial form of apartheid, where the poor are dumped on the periphery of settlements. There is also criticism that past plans have entrenched our dependence on private vehicles and contributed to the gridlock that is a feature of our cities, and through the expansion of the road network allowed the urban to orbit into our agricultural and conservation areas.

Without a comprehensive quality public transport supported by required intensities of residential and business development the bumper to bumper reality will remain. We need more sustainable urban forms.

The implementation of the act is bound to bring about teething problems for municipalities and for users of the spatial planning and land use tools. Some of the challenges that face the municipalities include the lack of planning capacity and staff to implement the act.

Especially in cases where municipalities would be faced with the additional challenge of having to implement the various aspects of land use planning functions for the first time. In certain provinces, such as the Free State, local government has not been responsible for planning.

Developers, architects, town planners who deal with development application will need to learn the new processes. Provinces such as KZN, Eastern Cape, North West and Limpopo have to incorporate the input of traditional leadership as part of the implementation of the act and this in itself requires appropriate engagement.

Given the challenges municipalities cannot implement Spluma alone.

The far ranging implications of the act from defining what the neighbour puts up next door, to how we get to our jobs and how various types of developments interlink to create sustainable living spaces requires for business and civil society to engage robustly with municipalities during its roll-out.

Given that South Africans are a resilient nation and not afraid to express a view, especially on matters affecting our daily lives, and our need to integrate and create a future that we can all be proud of, the robust engagements will indeed lay a solid foundation to build places where we want to live and are proud of.

Municipalities must facilitate this discussion, and realise that they cannot deliver on their intended development outcomes without the active participation and co-operation of other key stakeholders.

The future of our towns and cities depends on our engagement in the implementation of this act.

Lekgolo Mayatula, Planning and Development Manager at South African Property Owners Association (Sapoa).
Peter Magni, researcher at the South African Cities Network (SACN).
Business Report


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