New ‘Red Book’ emphasises importance of heritage compliance, but misses the mark

by | Aug 6, 2019

The Department of Human Settlements and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research have published the latest iteration of the ‘Red Book’ – the Neighbourhood Planning and Design Guide. As with previous versions, the aim of the guidelines is to improve the quality of settlement planning and design in South Africa and “contribute to the development of settlements that are vibrant, safe, integrated and inclusive”.

The guide is targeted at all involved in the planning and design of human settlements, particularly neighbourhood development projects. It effectively sets the national benchmark for settlement planning and is therefore hugely influential.  

Heritage is dealt with under Part II, section F of the guidelines. It notes that according to the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA; Act 25 of 1999), heritage sites, protected areas and heritage areas need to be taken into consideration when developments are planned. The guidelines also note that “[i]f a new development is situated within a declared heritage area, or is adjacent to a declared heritage building, it is advisable to discuss the new development with the relevant government department(s) early in the development process to get advice regarding regulations and design considerations”.

While the Heritage Association of South Africa (HASA) welcomes the inclusion of heritage in the guidelines, it is concerned that the authors approach heritage as primarily a legal compliance matter. In HASA’s view, heritage can play a powerful role in neighbourhood planning and design if it is integrated into the planning process from the outset, rather than being purely treated as a legal requirement. This is in line with international trends which emphasise that heritage should be holistically integrated in community planning processes.

An integrated process would entail involving heritage professionals on multi-disciplinary design teams from the outset (which should be provided for in the project terms of reference and accordingly budgeted for), identifying and consulting with local conservation bodies at the earliest, identifying heritage resources holistically and assessing their significance (if this has not already been done) and developing conservation management guidelines which should find expression in the proposed design guidelines being developed for a community.   

The Red Book in its current form seems to suggest that consultation with heritage resources authorities alone are sufficient. In HASA’s experience, it is critical that stakeholder consultation involve local conservation bodies meaningfully at the beginning of the planning process.

To read or download the Red Book visit