SPLUMA Implementation: Much Activity, Little Change

The Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) initiated in July 2015 is meant to realise the transformation of our towns, cities and wide open spaces. Since then much has been done, but little progress has been made to meet the ultimate goal of the Act.

Municipalities with cities and large towns have drafted or finalised planning by-laws specific to the local experience. Spatial Development Frameworks that determine the future land uses of a municipality are being revised to meet the needs of the Act. Land use management schemes that define what a type of land use means for a given municipality, and are used to assess day to day development applications, are being revised.

Some municipalities such as Cape Town and eThekwini and municipalities in the Northern Cape have completed the above actions. Rural municipalities, which have never had a planning function, are barely out the starting blocks. The rest are somewhere in between. For nine months work, given the complexity involved, progress has been laudable.

A reason for the progress is that the spatial development frameworks and land use management schemes are not new. SPLUMA ensured that there was continuity between itself and previous planning legislation. Municipalities did not need to reinvent the wheel when they began to implement the Act. Either municipalities had the basic systems in place, or the provinces did. SPLUMA was just about updating what existed or appropriating those systems from the provinces.

Where little progress has been made, despite all the activity, is in terms of realising real change in our planning. The Act lays out development principles for spatial transformation as spatial justice, spatial sustainability, efficiency, spatial resilience and good administration. Actions taken by the municipalities are not defining what these terms means, and how the changes made are going to realise these inspiring outcomes. The debate as to how to realise these principles is not reaching communities and business.

There are three priority actions that municipalities need to undertake in order to realise real change:

Firstly, spatial development frameworks, land use management schemes and associated tribunals must incorporate and meet the needs of the poor. Previous planning tools, especially land use management schemes, excluded poor communities in townships and informal settlements. Backyard dwellings, informal enterprise and future land use within RDP housing projects needs to be included in the day to day process of administration and public engagement, not shoved from daily view. Local government needs to prove itself to the poor and marginalised.

Secondly, SPLUMA was meant to speed up and give certainty to the building of our cities. It is not clear how the current changes will make it easier and more cost effective for the property sector to build better, more productive, more inclusive cities, towns and rural areas. Although some municipalities have introduced incentives it is apparent that the up-take has not delivered on the expected results and therefore the  platform for engagement between local government and the private sector needs to be established, nurtured and decisively acted upon.

Thirdly, local government needs to plan with one voice. Directorates within the local government responsible for the various aspects of planning need to work as one. Provinces must not interfere in the local government’s responsibility to municipal planning. There needs to be coordinated communication with communities be they poor or rich, black or white on what the future of settlements should be, and how this should be achieved. 

If these three issues are actively engaged and realised by municipalities the goal of SPLUMA will be achieved, and will not be relegated to a sub-standard administrative process.

Lekgolo Mayatula is the Planning and Development Manager at South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA). Peter Magni is a researcher at the South African Cities Network (SACN).



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