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Planning 4 Informality (P4I): Encouraging Accountability and Dialogue on Informal Settlement Upgrading and Backyarding Support

Isandla Institute | 2021-06-23 | 715 views

Informality remains a prominent feature of South African cities. Despite an ambitious public housing programme, informal settlements have continued to mushroom over the years. It is projected that 2.2 million families live in underdeveloped and substandard housing across the country; at least 60% (1.3 million households) of those live in informal settlements in and around the eight metros.

Cities are given a clear mandate to upgrade informal settlements by providing services and renovating infrastructure. This is accomplished through the Upgrading Informal Settlements Programme (UISP), which outlines the procedures to be followed for different aspects of informal settlement upgrading, such as planning, land acquisition, basic services provision, tenure and social amenities, amongst others. The UISP also emphasizes the importance of developing social compacts between municipalities and residents to inform all phases and aspects of upgrading.

Funding for the implementation of the UISP has come from the Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG), which was replaced in the 2019/20 fiscal year by the Upgrading Informal Settlement Partnership Grant. Municipalities are also required to leverage own funds to meet all of their objectives.

This highlights the need of paying close attention to the government's intentions and plans for dealing with informal settlements and backyarding across the country. Cities report to the National Treasury on their informal settlements upgrading programmes and related expenditure on an annual basis. Much of this reporting is done in ways that make it difficult for external stakeholders to absorb and engage with. And while the reports are considered public documents, they are not always easy to locate.

Isandla Institute’s Planning for Informality (P4I) web-tool seeks to ensure that public information is made available in the public domain, in an accessible format. The web-tool, now in its fifth year, is based on municipal official documents that are publicly available on the National Treasury website, such as the Integrated Development Plan (IDP), Build Environment Performance Plans (BEPPs), and Municipal Spatial Development Framework (MSDF), among others. The web-tool contributes towards openness and accountability by making reports supplied to the National Treasury publicly available and simplified for non-government actors.

P4I does not evaluate if official reports are factual or a fair reflection of municipal performance, because we believe that it is up to local stakeholders to use and verify the data in the interest of fostering accountability. Essentially, P4I identifies a range of indicators that – we believe – are critical to progressive approaches to residential informality in cities. These indicators are clustered in five categories: 1. Informal settlement upgrading strategy; 2. Backyarder support plan; 3. Forward planning and land; 4. Progress to MTEF targets; 5. Participation and empowerment.

P4I assesses the quality of evidence presented by cities for each category and indicator. The webtool grades data in official documents based on strength of evidence, which ranges from strong to partial to weak/no data. The stronger the evidence a City provides in relation to a particular indicator, the higher the score. Again, a positive rating does not necessarily mean that the City is performing well, but rather that its reports suggest that the City is taking a particular indicator seriously in its planning and implementation.

The web-tool seeks to encourage evidence-based conversations and action by city officials and other stakeholders related to informal settlement upgrading and the informal backyard housing sector. Through a low rating on a particular indicator or category, the web-tool identifies areas that require more targeted assistance, capability, resources, or a shift in thinking, while also encouraging responsibility.

The most important aspect of the tool is by far its promotion of accountability and engagement. We invite readers to interact with the web-tool through fact-checking and verification, or to submit comments and alternative perspectives (to the representation of a city’s practices in official reporting) through our ‘Contribute’ section.

For the 2020/21 financial year, Cities reported on the estimated number of people that live in informal settlements, as illustrated below (data reflected on the P4I webtool).

Slum upgrading remains the most financially and socially appropriate approach to addressing the challenge of existing slums. UN Habitat (A Practical Guide to Designing, Planning, and Executing Citywide Slum Upgrading Programmes 2015 (PDF), page 15)

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