A Regional Model for Equitable Social Service Delivery: Settlement Prioritisation and Supporting Infrastructure to Foster Rural Well-Being

20 Apr 2020

Enabling equitable social service delivery and promoting sustainable rural development remain key challenges within South African rural areas. Fiscal constraints, the high cost of social service provision and growing rural settlements increasingly require social investment and associated enabling infrastructure to deliver services to rural residents and improve their well-being. The need and value of developing consolidated rural service towns that are well provided with social services, to act as anchors and focus for rural and regional development, is one of the key levers proposed to support spatial transformation in the Draft National Spatial Development Framework (NSDF 2019). To successfully implement such a regional development approach in a low economic growth context, however, requires that the rural-regional development approach is underpinned by a targeted network of social service nodes together with the necessary enabling infrastructure. Successful implementation will require a high level of cross-sectoral and interregional planning to cluster spatially-aligned investment. The use of service centre approaches and associated inter-sectoral alignment is however not novel within international or national planning experiences. The purpose of the paper is twofold. Firstly to illustrate the potential value in using well-selected towns and urban areas within regions to act as such engines of regional and national transformation, despite past experiences and misgivings relating to the use of service centre approaches. Secondly to highlight the importance of the identification of national and regional settlement and service networks to guide and spatially align investment (including transportation projects) across sectors, regions and municipal boundaries. Learning from earlier applications of the regional service concept it is evident that careful selection of places and spatial alignment is key to the success of the rural service centre model, as is applied in the NSDF, 2019. The authors outline how this can be achieved through (i) spatial specific prioritisation to enable alignment between spheres and sectors as made possible by recent research such as used in the Social Facility Provision Toolkit (DRDLR), in which they have been involved; and (ii) the importance of providing good physical links and accessible connections between rural and urban areas, as well as between a range of rural places, through a well-maintained transport infrastructure network and public transport services.