ETHEKWINI STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT:  Status Quo & Preliminary SDF Assessment

A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a widely used tool for proactively integrating environmental sustainability issues into the formulation of policies, plans and programmes. A SEA is a legislated requirement in terms of the Spatial Planning and Land-use Management Act, 2013 (SPLUMA) and the Local Government: Municipal Planning and Performance Management Regulations (2001), and is intended to be a key informant of a municipality’s Spatial Development Framework (SDF). 
 
A phased approach is being adopted for eThekwini Municipality’s SEA, with the first phase focusing on understanding the ‘state of the environment’ that has resulted from existing development patterns in Durban. EThekwini Municipality has exhausted this first phase, and an Environmental Status Quo Report of Durban has been completed. The second phase of the SEA is developing an equivalent understanding of the ‘state of the social and economic systems’ that have produced the current environmental state and use the knowledge to explore the implications of possible future socio-economic pathways linked to the SDF.
 
Summary of the Status Quo Report
The Environmental Status Quo Report established that the eThekwini Municipal Area has experienced a major reduction in its natural asset base to the point that sustainability limits have been exceeded or are rapidly being approached for many environmental systems, with significant implications for social wellbeing. In many instances the situation and trends not only need to be halted but reversed if the city is to achieve a sustainable future for its citizens. Of major concern is that current trends suggest that environmental quality will continue to decline, as the drivers of this situation escalate. These findings are supported by the analysis of landcover change over time which was undertaken as part of the Environmental Status Quo and which also appears in the current report. This landcover analysis highlighted that landcover change, driven predominantly by urbanisation, is occurring rapidly across the municipal area, with an increasing proportion of this change being to permanent built form.  In addition, much of this growth is either informal or unregulated, with significant growth taking place beyond the Urban Development Line in areas under traditional authority, where much of the environmental asset remains. In such a context, where the sustainability of Durban’s growth and development requires the protection and maintenance of the natural asset base and where the environmental state suggests that there is no scope for further loss of this asset, eThekwini Municipality’s strategic spatial planning becomes a critical tool in informing a more sustainable development path.
 
Outcomes from Preliminary SDF Assessment 
Although the status quo is only the first phase of the SEA. A preliminary analysis of the SDF has been undertaken to provide early indications of possible development opportunities and constraints within the context of the current environmental state. In addition to specific constraints and opportunities that might be present in each of the spatial planning regions, the analysis provides early pointers as to some of the priority issues that will need to form part of the focus for the next phase of the SEA. These include the need to: explore options to more firmly embed D’MOSS into the Land Use Schemes and prioritise landscape restoration and rehabilitation to regain ecological functionality; use the outcomes from the final SEA to provide a more comprehensive environmental context in which development decisions can be made; respond more effectively to informal and unregulated development, particularly in areas under traditional authority; prioritise sector plans that focus on enhancing the public transport network, ensuring human settlements are appropriately located, and improving wastewater management and infrastructure maintenance; promote and incentivise circular economy development; and improve coordinated environmental governance in eThekwini Municipality both from an institutional structuring perspective and in terms of improving environmental data collection, management and analysis to inform decision making.
 
Way forward
As already indicated, a critical next step is to undertake the second phase of the SEA which will aim to develop an equivalent understanding of the ‘state of social and economic systems’ that has produced the current environmental state and use this knowledge to explore the implications of possible future socio-economic pathways linked to the SDF. The analysis and prioritisation of appropriate responses will be informed by the outcomes of this next phase of the SEA. As part of Phase 2, it will also be critical to begin conversations around some of the considerations emerging from this phase of the work. Priorities will include exploring options to embed D’MOSS more firmly into the land use schemes and understanding the factors that currently undermine the implementation of key sectoral plans, including wastewater management and infrastructure maintenance.