Bending and not Breaking Planning Law

Written by
  • Development Governance Institute
  • posted 6 months ago
  • Regularisation of settlements has gained traction in Zimbabwe’s public policy and academic discourse. However, the processes are not straight forward. Several factors such as land tenure, residents’ organisation and infrastructure emplacement often make regularisation a complex exercise. Despite this complexity, regularisation remains a useful response to land and housing informality in Zimbabwe. Flexible planning and housing standards are required for successful regularisation initiatives.

     On May 4th 2023 the Urban Informality Forum (UIF) hosted a discussion on informal settlement regularisation in Harare Province. The dialogue was based on a presentation by a senior government physical planner. Delegates in attendance included UIF organisers , state officials from the Ministries responsible for local government, housing, the City of Harare, the Environmental Management Agency, representatives of the Real Estate Institute of Zimbabwe, representatives of banks, Combined Harare Residents’ Association, Chitungwiza Residents Trust and Climate Action Network.

     Formulation and adoption of regularisation guidelines and implementation matrix by local authorities publicising of the Regularisation Program Mapping of informal settlements by the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA), Ministry of Local Government, Environmental Management Agency and local authorities Preparation and approval of 5 regularisation layout plans yielding 7 000 stands with 3 yielding 5 000 stands awaiting approval. Design and approval of infrastructure plans was ongoing Title surveys for 15 000 stands conducted 11 200 title deeds issued in Epworth where servicing and stand development was ongoing. 

    To respond to varying shades of urban informality, the Government of Zimbabwe rolled out a Regularization Program in 2020 to tackle informal settlements countrywide. Regularisation in Harare Province involves in-situ upgrading and relocation of families settled in flood prone areas, under power lines and within infrastructure servitudes. It is guided by the Sustainable Development Goals, the Constitution of Zimbabwe, National Development Strategy 1, and the Human Settlements Policy. Primary legislation guiding the regularisation process are the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act Chapter 29:12, Urban Councils Act Chapter 29:15 and Environmental Management Act Chapter 20:26.

     At the time of the meeting reported progress was as follows:

       >Formulation and adoption of regularisation guidelines and implementation matrix by local authorities.

      >Publicising of the Regularisation Program

      >Mapping of informal settlements by the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA), Ministry of Local Government, Environmental Management Agency and local authorities

      >Preparation and approval of 5 regularisation layout plans yielding 7 000 stands with 3 yielding 5 000 stands awaiting approval.

      >Design and approval of infrastructure plans was ongoing

      >Title surveys for 15 000 stands conducted

      >11 200 title deeds issued in Epworth where servicing and stand development was ongoing   

    Some of the challenges with regularisation faced by the state were discussed. Critical ones included the bending planning rules or standards and in some cases breaking them altogether. Delegates learnt that the degree of bending or breaking determines the possibility of regularisation. In more extreme rule-bending as well as outright breaking options taken in the province included beneficiaries footing the regularisation bill, prosecutions of those who facilitated the development of affected informal settlements, demolition and evictions for those on wetlands 

     But, how did it happen that urban areas in Zimbabwe now have some of the worst characteristics of development which is against human settlement principles? Further, why are the urban poor now mostly concentrated in areas without basic services that make settlements functional? In these settlements housing, WASH, energy and transport services are in a bad state. This is a result of residents being allocated land for housing by ‘developers’ without the capacity to provide services. In some instances the situation also arose from illegal allocations of land by ‘developers’ in wetlands and areas earmarked for common services such as schools.

     The case of Epworth Ward 7 was shared as an illustration of bending (not breaking) planning law. Examples of successful regularization outcomes in this case were mixed density, uneven stand sizes (e.g. a 150 m2 next to a 300 m2. stand) and reduced road grades (6 m instead of the standard 8-10m) in high density areas. In addition, 6 primary schools were provided for instead of a minimum of 13 as guided by the town planning standards. This was meant to reduce demolition of existing houses for infrastructure emplacement. This also minimised demand for relocations outside Epworth. Model infrastructure designs were prepared and adopted with community input.

     Still more informal settlements require state responses. Calls for facilitated bending of planning law to allow flexibility are growing. This is best looked at as part of state-enabled expansion of physical planning standards in areas where housing and other land uses are permissible. Un-facilitated bending without consolidation of planning standards makes emplacement of relevant infrastructure and common services after residents settle difficult. 

    Participatory regularisation processes are therefore critical. This requires residents who are better organised for meaningful engagement with public institutions. At the same time, liaising with and building capacity of public sector planners in brownfield planning is a necessity. This will ensure enough public sector planners are exposed to alternative settlement designs, planning tools and approaches critical for effective in-situ upgrading, retrofitting services and infrastructure to sustainably respond to community needs in a context of climate change. 

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