C.1 Aim and objectives of this Guide

The overall aim of this Guide is to give effect to the vision for South African human settlements outlined in Section B.3 by providing guidance regarding neighbourhood-level planning and design. The Guide is intended to address some of the challenges and assist in achieving the aims and objectives discussed in sections A and B, while it also supports South Africa’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and pursue the visions outlined in the New Urban Agenda and Agenda 2063 (see Section B1).

To accomplish this, the objectives of this Guide are to:

  • indicate the qualities that should be sought in South African settlements and neighbourhoods, and to provide practical guidance on how these qualities can be achieved through the implementation of physical development projects;
  • inform neighbourhood-level decision-making related to the planning and design of the various physical components of human settlements; and
  • encourage integrated settlement and neighbourhood planning and design, to promote sound urban planning and design principles and to assist in improving the efficiency of engineering services and infrastructure.
Figure C.1: Neighbourhoods are the 'building block' of settlements and differ in nature and character


C.2 Nature and scope of this Guide

The purpose of this Guide is to provide practical information related to the planning and design of the range of services and infrastructure typically provided as part of a neighbourhood development project. The application of the guidelines should ultimately result in the delivery of infrastructure and services that are effective and efficient and that contribute to the realisation of the vision for human settlements as outlined in Section B.3


The Guide is primarily intended to inform the decisions made as part of a project aimed at developing a specific part of a city or town (referred to as a ‘neighbourhood’ in this Guide). The exact definition of a neighbourhood is not of critical importance when applying this Guide. Neighbourhoods are not constructs such as provinces and countries, and it is not always possible or practical to clearly delineate a neighbourhood. It may also not necessarily be helpful to establish definite boundaries that clearly exclude and include certain areas, services or facilities.

This document is not intended as a planning guide for an entire city or town, but by applying the guidelines at a neighbourhood level, the aims and objectives to be achieved at a city or town level should be supported and reinforced.

The guidelines are aimed largely at neighbourhood-level services and infrastructure. Bulk services and amenities such as main water supply pipelines, outfall sewers, treatment works, landfills, freeways and so forth are considered beyond the scope of this Guide. For the most part it also does not include detailed site and building-level information.

The Guide allows for differences in context, for instance urban, rural and peri-urban; and also for various geotechnical and topographical conditions. The guidelines are applicable to different types of developments including greenfield, brownfield and informal settlement upgrading projects. (See Section D.3 )

It is essential to keep the following in mind:

  • The guidelines are not prescriptive and require interpretation informed by the application context. They should not be regarded as minimum standards or regulations. Guidelines in general are intended to assist decisionmaking, whereas standards are normally considered as measurable, enforceable limits. Both the rigid application of guidelines and the setting of inappropriate standards often have the opposite effect to what was intended.
  • This Guide is not a substitute for professional or practical experience and it recognises the importance of professional responsibility where applicable.
  • Judgement should always be exercised based on the actual circumstances. The Guide includes information about good practices and aims to encourage innovation and creativity.


C.3 The sphere of influence of this Guide

As outlined above, the intention with the guidelines is to assist those involved in the various aspects of a neighbourhood development project with making informed planning and design decisions. Development projects involve numerous phases that can be spread over many years, even decades. The typical phases of a conventional development project are indicated in Figure C.2. Since the types of development projects vary, the phases as indicated will vary, as will the role players involved in the process. Some projects are developer driven, aimed at middle- to higher-income residents and require private sector funding. Other projects are aimed at low-income communities and involve the participation of government departments and entities, communitybased organisations and non-government organisations. They are usually partly dependent on government funding in the form of grants and subsidies. (The processes to be followed for these types of project are outlined in the Housing Project Process Guide developed by the Department of Human Settlements.34)

Figure C.2: The typical phases of a conventional development project – sphere of influence of this Guide

As indicated in Figure C.2, the sphere of influence of this Guide is confined to specific aspects of the development process. Certain phases need to be completed before the issues addressed in this Guide become relevant, and some phases will be implemented after the phases that involve the application of the guidelines This Guide is primarily focused on the phases involving neighbourhood layout planning, municipal services planning and layout and infrastructure design. However, the Guide could also be of practical use during the conceptualisation and project planning phases, and also when appointing a project team. It could provide guidance with the preparation of a brief (terms of reference), the development of a proposal in response to the brief, the evaluation of proposals, as well as the subsequent planning and design of the development. Despite this specific focus of the Guide, it is important to remember that decisions made during these phases will have an impact on certain aspects of the community participation process, the construction of the development as well as the operation, maintenance and management of the infrastructure.


The success of a development project is dependent on sound decision-making during all phases of the project, and the information provided in this Guide will not be able to undo the impact of poor decisions made during the early stages of a project. In particular, the location of the project and the characteristics of the land to be developed should be considered carefully. Finding suitable land could be difficult, and land assembly is often a challenging undertaking that could take several years.


Suitable land – a critical aspect of a development project

A key decision that needs to be made at the outset relates to the location and characteristics of the intended development site. Depending on the type of project, some or all of the following factors need to be taken into consideration:

  • The location of the land may have to align with national and provincial strategic objectives as outlined in (for instance) Spatial Development Frameworks and it may have to adhere to spatial targeting requirements.
  • The location of the land may also have to align with local development objectives as outlined in (for instance) the relevant Integrated Development Plan (IDP), specifically the Spatial Development Framework (SDF) and the Built Environment Performance Plan (BEPP).
  • The potential for integrating the development into the existing settlement (for instance, access to transport, economic activities, amenities and services).
  • The physical characteristics of the land, including the topography, geology, size and shape.
  • The local context, for instance whether the setting is rural, urban or peri-urban, the nature of the immediate surrounding environment and neighbourhoods, demographic characteristics, etc.
  • Zoning and land use, land claims, servitudes, ownership and other legal aspects.

More information is available in the Guidelines for the identification of well-located land for human settlements.35


C.4 Target users

This Guide contains information relevant to all built environment practitioners, but particularly those involved in the planning and design of human settlements, particularly neighbourhood development projects. It is intended to provide support to both the private and public sectors. Potential users of the guidelines include the following:

  • Built environment professionals and practitioners, including engineers (civil, transportation, electrical, etc.), urban planners, architects, landscape architects, urban designers, etc.
  • Active citizens and community groups involved in people-driven housing development initiatives.
  • Decision-makers, influencers and those who are required to develop policy, including local government councillors.
  • Residents (communities) and others who need information that will enable them to better understand the consequences of decisions related to the provision of services and infrastructure.
  • Tertiary institutions, particularly students and lecturers involved in the built environment professions.

Different types of readers would use the information for different reasons, and in some cases only those with specialist knowledge and experience would be able to interpret and apply some of the guidelines. However, the information is presented in a way that is as accessible and user-friendly as possible.


“One of the most valuable contributions over the next five years is to build the capabilities for effective spatial decision making and implementation. These capabilities are required in local, provincial and national government, educational and research institutions, the spatial professions such as planning, urban design and architecture and society at large.”36


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The Neighbourhood Planning and Design Guide
Creating Sustainable Human Settlements

Developed by
Department of Human Settlements

Published by the South African Government
ISBN: 978-0-6399283-2-6
© 2019