Land use management plays an integral role in organised and planned land use to facilitate economic growth in the urban environment. The patterns of land use determine how productive an urban area can be. As part of this management process, controls are developed to reduce the risk of the incorrect usage of resources. Where resources are incorrectly allocated, problems develop such as shortage of housing, transport issues and unequal distribution of essential services that include electricity supply.

Policies are in place to minimise the risk of the incorrect usage of land and over-exploitation of resources for one sector of the urban economy or community in the city. Urban planning helps to ensure the best usage of resources and land. As part of the process, town planners draw up maps to indicate current settlement and resource-usage patterns. Maps are also drawn up to indicate proposed uses and necessary changes to ensure sustainable usage of the land. These maps show the potential location of residential settlements, light industries, retail centres, schools, hospitals, and recreational facilities.

One of the challenges is how to determine the best usage for a particular site. The decision is made with consideration of the most profitable utilisation of the site in mind to ensure the best possible balance for the particular site. With this in mind, the Spatial Planning and land use management Act No. 16 of 2013 came into being. Referred to as SPLUMA, it was the first of its kind for South Africa. It helped to create a framework in which spatial planning can take place for the entire country. SPLUMA’s aim from the start has been to create a level playing field and address problems in spatial planning from the previous governments. Goals such as community involvement, transparency in management, and improved environmental management have been set. However, zoning approaches of the past have made it difficult to reach SPLUMA’s goals.

Until recently, the zoning schemes have created single-use areas, such as residential and industrial. This has caused the problem of people living far from their workplaces. With long distances to travel from residential areas to factories or business districts, many people spend hours commuting to and from work. This reduces the time they can spend with their families and thus affects their life enjoyment. High travel costs eat into their earnings and prevent communities from being able to improve their financial well-being. This also creates a problem for employers, as many companies subsidise the transport of employees.

Zoning states which areas in the urban environment can be used for specific purposes. The strict categories of the past can no longer work. The economic growth potential of cities is hampered when people can only operate specific businesses in particular areas. It also hinders development when the density requirements for specific areas have not been changed to allow for higher density in residential areas. We see more and more areas now zoned for mixed land usage. Though zoning is essential for optimal land use management, some relaxation of the zones has become necessary. More and more areas are now developed where homes are built near industries and commercial centres. This helps to reduce commuting time and traffic.

With many of the settlements in the country still highly fragmented, there is a long road ahead in changing the urban landscapes to bring people closer to their places of work, education, sports, and medical facilities. Many South African cities don’t yet experience the benefits of sustainable land use management. Informal settlements within city boundaries are an example. These settlements are not subject to the building regulations that affect conventional residentially zoned areas where strict building and health regulations apply. To this end, there is no order in the way houses are built, streets developed, and areas of relaxation created. The density is extremely high, which poses several social, health, environmental, and security risks.

Land use management regulations are difficult to enforce in such settlements. It has become imperative to survey such areas and create proper plans for organised development of the settlements. Infrastructure development must include roads, stormwater drainage, sewage, electricity supply, waste removal, and more. By revisiting zoning regulations for urban areas, it is possible to bring more order to how people settle and ensure that housing can be placed closer to work opportunities.

Get expert guidance from a well-established town-planning firm to help with land use management issues and application for zoning changes to allow for mixed-use areas in your particular city.