Funded by ESRC

Community-led Upgrading for Self-Reliance in South Africa: Integrated Construction and Environmental Management Systems in Informal Settlements


Funded by: ESRC: Economic and Social Research Council and NRF: National Research Foundation, SA

March 2016 to March 2019

Lead organisation: University of Westminster

Partner organisations: University College London, Eco Ltd, School of Built Environment and Development Studies, Pollution Research Group, eThekwini Municipality

Project web page:

Project description

This project focuses on ‘informal settlements’ in South Africa (SA), which are often characterised by the lack of basic services and infrastructure (e.g. safe sanitation, reliable electricity), poorly performing building materials (e.g., wood, cardboard, metal sheets, mud) without any building plans approved and often on illegally-accessed and hazardous land. The idea that the communities in informal settlements should be involved in improving their homes and neighbourhoods is often discussed in the international development community. The tools and processes needed to ensure a successful upgrade of environmental and construction management are poorly understood, and top-down policies used by central and local government in SA have not been successful to date. If communities can improve their neighbourhoods through “development from within”, improving construction skills and using available materials, then there could be local, regional and national environmental, social and economic benefits. This research project seeks to explore the underpinning barriers and enabling drivers for communities to upgrade their informal settlements in SA. The central question for this research is: how can participatory approaches be utilised in an environmental and construction management strategy to achieve self-reliance in informal settlements in Durban, SA? This question will be investigated under six discrete project phases

Phase 1: Local Context and Gap Analysis (UKZN) Examining factors that have helped communities in Durban upgrade their housing and communities, and barriers to upgrading.

Phase 2: Mapping Urban Transitions through Community Participation (Westminster) Through a participatory action-research methodology, the project team will produce findings on bottom-up construction and environmental management in Namibia Stop 8 (NS8) with the involvement of the community living there. NS8 is a good practice case study in Inanda, Durban.

Phase 3: Integrated Closed-Loop Environmental Management Systems (UCL with UKZN): Exploring the potential of closed-loop systems where wastewater generated from NS8 can be reused for agriculture; investigating the processes, partnership models and business models required to ensure resilient infrastructure is provided.

Phase 4: Skills Enhancement in Construction (Westminster): Mapping the skills developed and enhanced through the ‘self-build’ approach adopted in NS8; transferring lessons from the UK Government Construction 2025 Strategy.

Phase 5: Developing and Testing an Integrated Collaborative Toolkit (Westminster and UKZN) Bringing together the key findings of individual Phase1 to Phase 4, this toolkit will take the form of a dynamic decision-making model which will map potential ways for communities, businesses, policymakers and others to collaborate. It will also help to spell out the resources required and skills that will be developed, and the business models created for mobilising private sector involvement and economic growth.

Phase 6: Project Management, Communication and Dissemination (Westminster with UKZN) Allocating 10% of the total cost of grant to communicate and disseminate findings to a varied audience. The dissemination strategy will include: project website, branding, social media, dissemination material, and dissemination events (UK and SA).

The research findings are intended to impact on SA government policy, as well as practice in the field of sustainable urban transitions, building on best practice from the UK. However, this does not negate the potential to transfer knowledge from SA back to the UK or elsewhere. The intended target audience includes local communities seeking to enhance their quality of life and well-being and local authorities enhancing their planning. The research outputs can be also utilised by international agencies (e.g. UN), policy-makers and practitioners working on upgrading programmes, plans and policies, particularly under the SDG post-2015 development agenda.

Publications and Reports

Journal Papers


Conference Papers and Presentations

Reports and other