Spatial Planning and Land Use Management

How’s this for (a lack of) spatial planning? In Hong Kong, there used to be an area known as ‘Kowloon Walled City’. It is a place where, generally speaking, you might not want to have lived. When it was demolished, in 1994, it contained the highest human population density on the planet. At only 6.5 acres – and that’s no more than about four football fields – up to 50 000 people lived in the high-rise tenements jam-packed within its walls.1

Meanwhile, here is a good, if not unusual, bit of land management. There is a town called Coober Pedy, in the South Australian outback, about 850 kilometres north of Adelaide. It is fairly famous as the world centre of mining for the precious opal gem stone, but what is not so well-known is that, due to the incredibly inhospitable climate, people live, shop, eat, and even go to church underground. By the way, to give another indication of how lucky we are not to live there, the first tree ever seen in Coober Pedy was welded together from scrap iron; and to escape the day time temperatures, golf is played mostly at night, with luminous balls.2

Fortunately, in South Africa we do not have to contend with phenomena like these. We do, however, have a legacy of spatial planning and land use management dictated by the apartheid laws. That planning and use did not have as their objectives environmental efficiencies, social and economic welfare, sustainable settlements and equality, but only racial segregation.

That much has had to be remedied and transformed, and which is what the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 2013 is all about. The Act came into force on 1 July 2015, and falls under the authority of the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform.

A. Municipal Planning Tribunals

  1. These Tribunals determine applications for land use and development within their respective municipal areas. The members consist of officials in full-time service of the municipality, and other persons with relevant knowledge and experience. It is an offence for a Tribunal member:
    • not to disclose any conflict (or potential conflict) of interest;3 or
    • to attend, participate or vote in any proceedings of the Tribunal in respect of which he has a conflict of interest.4
  2. It is a crime to disrupt the proceedings of a Municipal Planning Tribunal.5

B. Land use

  1. Land may only be used for purposes permitted by a land-use scheme, or a town planning scheme, or – where no such schemes are yet approved – for purposes which would have been lawful immediately before the commencement of the Act.6 It is an offence to use land contrary to these provisions.7

  2. You may not alter the form,8 or the function9 of any land without prior approval from the applicable municipality, and commit an offence if you do.10

C. Inspectors and public hearings

Municipalities appoint inspectors whose function is, mostly, to investigate non-compliance with approved land use schemes. They have wide powers of search, inspection, interrogation, seizure, and issuing directives.

  1. It is a crime to disrupt, hinder or obstruct any inspector in the performance of a function in terms of the Act.11

  2. It is also an offence to disrupt any public hearing which is being held for a purpose in terms of the Act.12

  1. – ‘9 Weirdest Towns in the World’. 

  2. Ibid; see also Wikipedia – ‘Coober Pedy’

  3. Section 58(1)(a) read with section 38(3)a. 

  4. Section 58(1)(a) read with section 38(3)b. 

  5. Section 58(1)(e). 

  6. That is as at 30 June 2015. 

  7. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 26(2). 

  8. For example, build a dam where none existed. 

  9. For example, start cultivating crops on a soccer field. 

  10. Section 58(1)(c). 

  11. Section 58(1)d and section 58(1)e. 

  12. Section 58(1)e.