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Africa – where planning leads the way with SDG goals

17 December 2018 Author: Peter Geraghty FRTPI

Two things strike you as a visitor to Cape Town: the incredible natural beauty in which the city is set, and its vibrant multicultural character.  These aspects made Cape Town a worthy location to play host to planners from all over Africa who attended the national planning conference Planning Africa 2018 held from 14th – 17th October.

I was delighted to be able to speak at the conference on behalf of the Commonwealth Association Planners. Many of the pre-occupations of those attending the conference would be familiar to those in the UK and Ireland.  For example, how to cope with major demographic changes and increasing urbanisation, social justice, environmental sustainability and economic development throughout Africa.

The positivity and optimism about planning and the role of planning practitioners was very encouraging. Government at all levels - local, regional and national - was seen as having a strong role to play in the future of planning across Africa. Local Government was very much valued and seen in a context of delivering positive change for the people of Africa.

The politicians who spoke at the conference encouraged planners to be bold and fight for a better system. Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, the Honourable Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, called on all planners to work for real change for ordinary people to enjoy quality living environments. She went as far as to say that planners should kick down the doors of politicians where necessary! I was really stuck by the positive political view of planning that came across at the conference.

In 2008, for the first time, the world's population was evenly split between urban and rural areas. In 2013, six of the ten countries with the highest urbanization rates in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Projections also indicate that between 2010 and 2025, some African cities will account for up to 85% of the population. The pressures that this growth will bring was well recognised by conference attendees.

The New Urban Agenda and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were seen by many as fundamental to addressing the challenges facing African society. For example, Uganda was one of the first countries to prepare its 2015/16–2019/20 national development plan in line with the SDGs. The Ugandan Government estimates that 76% of the SDGs targets are reflected in the plan and adapted to the national context. As of 2015, 142 countries throughout Africa were developing national-level urban policies; of these, 82 countries were already in the process of implementation. 

This is in contrast to the approach to the implementation of the sustainable development goals in the England. The UK Government’s recently published National Planning Policy Framework does not event mention the goals.

My presentation on how the goals are being adopted throughout the UK highlighted the “Measuring Up” report published by the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD).  It takes an independent view of how the UK is performing on the UN SDGs for the first time and found that out of 143 targets relating to the sustainable development goals, the UK is performing well on only 24% of them. There are gaps in policy or inadequate performance for 57% of the targets, and 15% where there is little to no policy in place to address the target, or where performance is poor. This is not a very encouraging picture of adoption.

I have argued that the New Urban Agenda provides the basis for a paradigm shift in UK planning, with people at the very heart of the process and local authorities providing real community leadership.  The dilatory approach to implementing the goals does not auger well in achieving a paradigm shift.

The New Urban Agenda promotes cities that are participatory; promote civic engagement; engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants; prioritise safe, inclusive, accessible, green, and quality public spaces; and are friendly for families, whilst enhancing social and intergenerational interactions. This is why the value of the Agenda and SDGs is recognised by planners throughout Africa.

The conference closed with two awards ceremonies. The Commonwealth Association of Planners’ inaugural award for planning excellence in the Commonwealth went to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in New Zealand for its innovative approach to innovative risk-based planning and engagement for natural hazards. The other award ceremony was the South African Planning Institute Awards and it was noticeable how many awards went to young and early career planning professionals.

The vibrant multicultural character of Cape Town was certainly reflected in the conference and I left Africa feeling upbeat and positive.


Peter Geraghty FRTPI

Peter Geraghty FRTPI

Head of Planning and Transport at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
Peter Geraghty FRTPI is Director of Planning and Transport at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. He was Chair of the RTPI Board of Trustees in 2012, President of the RTPI 2013 to 2014, and former Chair of the RTPI's International Committee. He is currently the RTPI representative to the Commonwealth Association of Planners. The view expressed are his own.