D.1 An integrated approach

The success of this Guide is dependent on the integration of the different aspects addressed in it when applying the guidelines in an actual development project. This means that when decisions are taken about one aspect of the proposed development, the implications these decisions may have on other aspects should be carefully considered. It is vital that the different sections of this Guide are not applied in isolation, but that the relationships between the different aspects dealt with in different sections are taken into account. A fundamental principle to keep in mind is collaboration, and, linked to it, effective communication. These principles are discussed in more detail in Section E (Working together).

When applying this Guide, cognisance should be taken of a range of acts, policies, frameworks and strategies. Since the Guide is aimed at project-level decision-making, specific attention should be paid to related guidelines, regulations, codes, norms and standards as illustrated in Figure D.1.

Figure D.1: Positioning of this Guide within the broader regulatory environment


D.2 A context-specific approach

Neighbourhood development projects are influenced by, and should be responsive to, their implementation context, for instance the location of the development and the nature of the land to be developed. The context of an informal settlement upgrading project would for example differ substantially from that of a greenfield development, and a greenfield development would be planned and designed differently when located in an urban area as opposed to a rural area. It is therefore important to carefully consider the context when applying this Guide.

Another factor that needs to be considered relates to the funding source and mechanism used to implement the development project. Projects associated with any of the housing assistance programmes and subsidy instruments outlined in the Housing Code of the National Department of Human Settlements need to satisfy the requirements as described in the Code. These requirements have to be considered in conjunction with the information provided in this Guide.


Developments associated with government housing assistance programmes and subsidies

The information provided in this Guide supports the objectives of the various assistance programmes and subsidy instruments included in the Housing Code.37 The priority programmes and subsidies are revised from time to time, but they could include the following:

  • Integrated Residential Development Programme (IRDP)
    The intention with this programme is to facilitate social, economic and spatial integration. It allows for the acquisition of land, servicing of stands for a variety of land uses including commercial, recreational, schools and clinics, as well as residential stands for low, middle and high-income groups.
  • Upgrading of Informal Settlement Programme (UISP)
    This programme aims to improve the living conditions of people living in informal settlements by providing access to basic services and a choice of housing tenure options (including rental and options to buy).
  • Social Housing Programme
    This programme allows for the provision of affordable rental accommodation, managed by social housing institutions, through a combination of government grants, private sector funding and equity.

Other programmes and subsidies include the Rural Subsidy (Communal Land Rights), the Provision of Basic Social and Economic Facilities Programme, the Individual Subsidy Programme, the Enhanced People’s Housing Process Programme and the Farm Residents Housing Programme.

The context is determined by a range of factors that are generally linked to the type of development and the location or setting of the development, as briefly discussed below. These factors should be considered in more detail when applying the guidelines provided in Part II of this Guide, and therefore they are again referred to in sections F to N.

D.2.1 Type of development

The type of development relates to the nature of the particular site where development will occur. Development projects are most commonly categorised as greenfield, brownfield or informal settlement upgrading.


D.2.1.1 Greenfield development

A greenfield site is a vacant piece of land that has never been developed (built on). It could include agricultural land, open space (public or private), or natural unspoilt environments such as grasslands or forests. Greenfield sites could be located within the urban environment, adjacent to urban boundaries or in rural settings.

A greenfield development has certain advantages and disadvantages. A greenfield project may allow for more flexibility with respect to the planning and design of the development, and it could also unlock the potential of an entire area, resulting in new economic, housing and recreational opportunities. The layout and structure of the proposed development is not constrained by the existing built environment and existing buildings do not have to be demolished or somehow incorporated into the new development.

However, greenfield sites may not always have direct access to services such as water, sanitation, electricity and roads. This could have financial implications that should be taken into consideration when the development is planned. Furthermore, the ongoing consumption of undeveloped land, in particular productive agricultural land and green open space, is a serious concern. It contributes to the depletion of food production areas, increases motor vehicle usage and pollution, and may require additional expensive engineering services and infrastructure that may place an additional burden on municipal service delivery.

Care should be taken to ensure that a greenfield development does not enhance the negative characteristics of South African settlements as mentioned in Section A.2. If located on the periphery of a town or city, such developments could amplify the inequalities and inefficiencies of a city or town by (for instance) increasing travel distances to and from the residents’ places of employment, shops and social, recreational, healthcare or other facilities. Special efforts should be made to ensure that the new development enhances spatial and social integration and economic inclusivity, and to create a positively performing neighbourhood as described in Section F.2.2.

Photo credit: City of Cape Town Figure D.2: Example of a greenfield site


D.2.1.2 Brownfield development

A brownfield site refers to an area with existing infrastructure (buildings, roads and municipal services) that has the potential for further development, i.e. expansion, upgrading, renovation and/or rezoning. Brownfield sites could be defined as follows:

  • Abandoned, dormant or underused industrial or commercial areas that could be transformed into residential or mixed-use neighbourhoods
  • Town or city centres that need to be transformed or adapted to meet changing requirements
  • Run-down neighbourhoods that have the potential to be revitalised
  • Existing residential or mixed-use neighbourhoods that present the opportunity for sites to be subdivided and, if required, rezoned

A brownfield project could take on several forms. It could involve the total redevelopment of an area and the upgrading of existing infrastructure, or the installation of new infrastructure. It could also involve the upgrading of an area, including the renovating, repurposing or demolishing of existing buildings or areas (e.g. inner-city upgrading programmes) and it could involve infill developments on patches of vacant or underutilised land in a built-up area.

Photo credit: SSI Group Figure D.3: Example of a development on a brownfield site

A brownfield development may have clear benefits, including potential savings because some bulk services may already be available. It is a more efficient way of using land and other resources; it could possibly have access to existing services and transport networks; or it may address urban decay. Brownfield projects could also contribute to the preservation of heritage sites and buildings, and the revitalisation of historic sites. The redevelopment of certain areas could sometimes act as a catalyst for the redevelopment of neighbouring areas and lead to a general enhancement of the surrounding area.

However, brownfield developments could also be costly and time consuming. Brownfield sites may be contaminated from previous uses, especially industrial, which could require rehabilitation of the site to remove all contaminants such


as oil, asbestos, chemicals and other pollutants. Since residents, businesses and visitors would have to be consulted as part of the development process, their concerns could negatively influence or delay the proposed development. Existing infrastructure such as buildings, roads and engineering services could further restrict the design of the development. The redevelopment of certain neighbourhoods could lead to the gentrification of the area and thus force low-income residents to leave their homes, their community, their family and employment.

D.2.1.3 Informal settlement upgrading

Informal settlements are defined in a number of ways. According to Statistics South Africa, an informal settlement is “…an unplanned settlement on land which has not been surveyed or proclaimed as residential, consisting mainly of informal dwellings (shacks)”.38 They define an informal dwelling as “…a makeshift structure not approved by a local authority and not intended as a permanent dwelling”.39

The National Housing Code of 200940 outlines several features that characterise informal settlements, including the following:

  • Illegality and informality. Settlements are usually on unproclaimed land, or occupied without permission of the landowner (whether public or private).
  • Inappropriate locations. Many settlements are located in marginal sites where development is inappropriate or even dangerous. These include sites on unsuitable geological conditions (such as dolomite), unsuitable topography (for example, steep slopes at risk of landslip or sites within flood lines), near heavy industrial infrastructure (such as mine dumps, slimes dumps or within smell zones) or within water, gas or electricity servitudes.
  • Restricted public and private sector investment. Informal settlements typically have no or only rudimentary levels of services (such as water, sanitation and waste collection). Private enterprises rarely rise above the levels of survivalist activities, spaza shops and the like. The insecure status of informal settlements, coupled with low levels of public investment and lack of tenure, discourages households from investing in their shelter.
Figure D.4: Examples of informal settlement upgrading


The upgrading of informal settlements is a key component of the government’s endeavours to deliver housing. Targeted programmes that have been established to support upgrading initiatives include the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) and the UISP. The intention with these programmes is to support the provision of basic services (including water and sanitation) and security of tenure, while also empowering communities. A range of methods can be employed to provide housing, including self-build, the People’s Housing Process, social housing, affordable rental or utilising individual or consolidation subsidies.

A staged process is encouraged, involving the incremental improvement of the quality of life through the provision of services and tenure. As far as possible, in-situ upgrading processes are preferred to minimise the need to relocate residents, thereby disrupting existing structures and community cohesion. Some informal settlements may appear to be unstructured and lack order, but the communities are often well organised and have support mechanisms and regulating structures in place. In certain cases, in-situ upgrading may not be an option, for instance when the location poses a threat to the health and lives of the residents. (See the reference to inappropriate locations in Section D.2.1.3.)

Despite the emphasis on in-situ upgrading, some local authorities and practitioners find it particularly challenging. Comprehensive support is provided in the form of a Resource Kit that is available on the NUSP website.41


Informal settlement upgrading according to the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP)42

There is a strong recognition that informal settlement upgrading is a social process, involving people who already inhabit the land and who therefore have to be partners in the upgrading process. This aspect is called co-production. This means that informal settlement communities need to be actively engaged at key levels in the formulation of a strategy and project plans.

The underlying philosophy of incremental informal settlement upgrading is as follows:

  • Informal settlement residents have nowhere else to go and have found a way to make a living where they currently are.
  • It is best to incrementally build on what they have already done themselves.
  • By building on what people have done and listening to what they need, people’s lives can best be improved.
  • In this way, they can be integrated into the town or city.
  • This means residents are partners in the upgrading process and stakeholders in the town or city.

D.2.2 The setting/location of the planned development

The setting of a development relates to the nature of the broader area within which it will be located. The setting is generally categorised as urban, peri-urban or rural.

D.2.2.1 Urban

The urban environment typically includes metropolitan areas, cities and towns. As such, the characteristics of different urban areas could vary substantially. The features of one part of a city or town could also differ significantly from those of other parts of the same city or town. Cities and towns consist of various parts, including central business districts, residential suburbs, informal settlements, and what used to be referred to as townships. These areas differ with respect to population and built environment density, as well as the availability and level of services and infrastructure.


In general, urban areas provide the settings for greenfield, brownfield and informal settlement upgrading projects. Cities and towns can provide opportunities for brownfield developments, including inner-city regeneration projects, the repurposing of buildings and the redevelopment or densification of residential neighbourhoods and abandoned industrial areas. When planning and designing these types of projects, the condition and capacity of existing services and infrastructure should be carefully considered.

Photo credit: Graeme Williams (R and B) - www.brandsouthafrica.com Figure D.5: Examples of urban settings

D.2.2.2 Peri-urban

Peri-urban refers to the transitional space between rural and urban areas. This space becomes increasingly significant and contested as the process of urbanisation occurs and cities and towns continue to expand. The boundary line between rural, peri-urban and urban is not well defined and can therefore change rapidly. Because of this, municipalities find it difficult to manage urban sprawl. In some cases an urban edge is established to contain growth within a certain boundary. Land in peri-urban areas is often less expensive than urban land, and it is therefore popular for low-density greenfield development projects, which contribute to the urban sprawl phenomenon. Peri-urban areas often provide the settings not only for middle-income cluster complexes and high-income lifestyle estates, but also for informal settlements.


Photo credit: Durbanville Wine Valley (R) - www.brandsouthafrica.com Figure D.6: Examples of peri-urban settings

D.2.2.3 Rural

Rural areas are usually sparsely populated and located outside the limits of a city or town. They include rural villages and small towns, dense rural settlements and dispersed settlements. The approach to the planning and design of neighbourhood development projects in rural towns is often similar to the approach taken in more urbanised areas. However, more sparsely populated rural areas and villages may have particular characteristics that require a less conventional approach. Factors that need to be considered include land ownership and tenure, especially since land may be communal property and under the control of traditional leaders.

Photo credit: Graeme Williams (L) - www.brandsouthafrica.com Figure D.7: Examples of rural settings


D.3 A structured decision-making approach

D.3.1 A decision-making framework

The information provided in each of the different sections of Part II of this Guide is presented systematically to ensure that various factors that could potentially influence decisions are considered. The different sections deal with the following themes:

  • Neighbourhood layout and structure
  • Public open space
  • Housing and social facilities
  • Transportation and road pavements
  • Water supply
  • Sanitation
  • Stormwater
  • Solid waste management
  • Electrical energy

The last section of Part II deals with two cross-cutting issues, namely planning and designing safe communities and universal design. Where applicable, these issues should be considered when making decisions related to each of the themes.

Each of the sections dealing with the different themes is structured to support effective decision-making, as described below. This structuring framework is outlined in Figure D.8.

Universal considerations

General aspects that should be taken into consideration when making higher level decisions regarding the theme of the particular section (as listed in Section D.3.1 above) are highlighted, including the following:

  • The regulatory environment, including key legislation, policies, frameworks and strategies
  • The key objectives that should be achieved as a result of the application of the guidelines provided
  • Local or international approaches, mechanisms, concepts and current trends that could possibly be utilised to achieve the key objectives
  • Contextual factors specific to the development project to be implemented such as the development type and setting

Planning considerations

Factors to consider when making more detailed decisions regarding the theme of the particular section are outlined, including the following:

  • The characteristics of the development, including the nature of the proposed neighbourhood, the anticipated number of residents and specific features that would have to be incorporated or requirements that would have to be met
  • The existing features of the site and immediate surroundings (built and natural environment) as determined by the physical location of the proposed development


  • Options related to the theme of the particular section that are available for consideration

Design considerations

Guidelines to assist with the design of the options that have been selected.

Glossary, acronyms, abbreviations and endnotes

A glossary, a list of acronyms and abbreviations, and endnotes (containing sources of information, explanatory comments, etc.) are provided at the end of the particular section.

Figure D.8: A framework to assist with planning and design decisions


D.3.2 Options and choices

A range of service and infrastructure options are provided in each of the sections dealing with the various themes as listed in Section D.3.1. When applying this Guide, it is essential to consider as many factors as possible to assist in selecting the option most suitable to the development project being implemented. By using the framework presented in Figure D.8, useful information will be gathered to inform decisions regarding options. Decisions can be influenced by various factors, including financial considerations (capital and life-cycle costs), the context (location and associated characteristics) and user preferences. After all the factors have been considered, it may be necessary to make some compromises when deciding on the level and type of services and the infrastructure to be provided, since it may not always be possible to satisfy all requirements with one particular option.

When implementing projects that utilise government funding (grants and subsidies), in particular informal settlement upgrading projects, making these difficult decisions requires effective community participation (see Section E.1). This Guide provides those involved in such projects with information to assist in making informed decisions. The information also helps when trade-offs needs to be made when deciding between different levels or types of service, or when comparing different infrastructure options.


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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