Critical evaluation of the extent to which environmental aspects are considered in strategic level municipal decision making : case studies from the Gauteng Province
Historically the practice of conservation planning has occurred in an ad hoc manner in areas that have no economic or agricultural value. When systematic conservation planning has been implemented it has ensured the identification of priority areas that contain species, habitats, and processes essential to achieving conservation targets and goals set out by government. In the recent past a number of authors within the conservation planning fraternity have started questioning the actual impact of conservation plans. Only one third of the conservation plans (globally) published between 1998 and 2000 resulted in actual implementation. Prendengast et al. (1999) described this gap between conservation plans and conservation action as the ‘research–implementation–gap’. The same phenomenon is experienced in local government conservation planning, in South Africa. This has led to a lack of conservation planning and implementation. By using the Gauteng provincial Conservation Plan (C–Plan), that is considered the strategic conservation planning document for the province government, a critical evaluation of the extent to which environmental aspects are considered in strategic level municipal decision making was done. Six local and two district municipalities within the Gauteng Province were selected to ascertain, through a comparative and objective analysis, to what extent their strategic documents (Integrated Development Plan, Spatial Development Framework and Environmental Management Framework) reflect the conservation planning done on a provincial sphere (C–Plan). An analysis was done of the selected documentation and spatial maps to determine whether incorporation occurred either explicitly and/or implicitly. The expectation is that municipalities within the Gauteng Province, should, as part of their Integrated Development Plan process, integrate the Gauteng C–Plan with their Integrated Development Plans. The research found that all the municipalities fully incorporated the C–Plan within their Environmental Management Frameworks indicating that local government conservation planners do consult and incorporate provincial conservation plans when they are generating their own plans. The Spatial Development Frameworks and Integrated Development Plans did not reflect this strong connection with regards to conservation planning. There is a lack of integration between the different documents and an inability to bring a planning aspect(s) to delivery and implementation. There is no problem with the incorporation of the C–Plan into the Environmental Management Frameworks, thus future research or conservation initiatives should focus on the effective incorporation of the Environmental Management Frameworks into other strategic municipal documentation (Spatial Development Frameworks and Integrated Development Plans) and promote the integration that occurs between the municipal documents themselves.