Planning ahead

2011-07-20 00:00

IT was good to sit in a meeting last week and find out that the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Planning Commission has not been dormant but has been actively working on the building blocks towards a growth and development strategy for the province.

An immediate reaction is one of cynicism. More plans and blueprints to collect dust. Will this be yet another talk shop and, most frustrating, will it turn out to be another plan, which like so many of government's very good policies, fails to be applied properly?

Take the very good guidelines municipal legislation offers on what to look for in terms of qualifications and experience when appointing municipal managers. Yet time and again municipalities appoint senior staff who don't meet the criteria. Just last week, Umvoti Municipality appointed a municipal manager without the requisite experience.

There are all the guidelines on how to draft an Integrated Development Plan (IDP) for municipalities. These are seldom applied. KZN's MEC for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs in a recent address to mayors, bemoaned the fact that often municipalities had their most junior staff working on IDPs, yet this is an area that demands highly skilled personnel.

In my own city, Pietermaritzburg, for a long time now it has felt as if the town-planning rule book was thrown out the window and anything goes. We've had illegal boarding houses sprouting up all over the place and in some neighbourhoods it seems like every third or fourth house is either a tavern or a tuck shop. I'm certain illegal structures abound all around as I've passed buildings with awnings that look like they shouldn't be there.

Shopping centres are also mushrooming in the city. Three are in the pipeline in the Edendale area itself — the shopping centre opposite Qokololo Stadium, the mall planned for the stadium site itself and the shopping centre at the Masons Mill site.

In the Scottsville area yet another shopping centre is planned, this time at Mills Circle, opposite an existing centre — Pick n Pay. All of this in a city where two cinemas have closed down and shops lie empty in existing centres. It is also in a city where unemployment, as in the rest of the country, officially stands at over 25%. And, where residents are about to get a rude awakening on how the massive 23% electricity hike, alone, with other increased municipal tariffs is to affect their pockets.

This was why I listened to the presentation on the Provincial Growth and Development Strategy (PGDS) with an open mind. Here was a long-term plan. A 20-year vision and direction for development in the province. How often have we heard that progress in China and India is the direct result of those countries' long-term planning?

Not only are we talking long-term plans, we are doing this in a co-ordinated and structured manner, where provincial plans will eventually talk to an overall national plan. So said Frikkie Brooks, an official from the department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs who was explaining the PGDS to mayors and municipal leaders at the meeting.

Like its national counterpart, the document's starting point is a diagnostic overview of the province, that provides facts and figures to inform planning. And, like the national document, there is a refreshing level of honesty about the challenges facing the province. For example, it does not shy away from raising the issue that 40% of the total land cover of KwaZulu-Natal is under the custodianship of the Ingonyama Trust and that ways will have to be found to untap this land for development. It asks questions about whether the province can sustain 61 municipalities and addresses the haphazard nature of planning thus far. Brookes asked why the IDPs of municipalities within a district don't talk to each other. I recall neighbouring municipalities in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands where one had a game reserve planned for an area, while the other had an industrial park planned for the site right next door.

The provincial report, like its national diagnostic overview, comes across as a bleak but realistic assessment. It mentions the levels of poverty within the province, the high burden of disease, a dysfunctional education system and the fact that KwaZulu-Natal's Human Development Index is declining faster that the national average.

All of this is going to be taken into account with a host of other factors, like the recession, the economy and population movements to come up with a plan for the province. This may well turn out to be another blueprint collecting dust. But, as an active citizenry, we can prevent this from happening by using IDPs and the Provincial Growth and Development Strategy as documents by which we can hold municipalities and government to account.

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