In 2012, the South African government adopted the National Infrastructure Plan, which outlines a 20-year programme of work that aims to address the significant infrastructure backlogs in the country, improve the delivery of basic services and strengthen South Africa’s infrastructure integration with our neighbouring countries.
The Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) are part of government's commitment to implement the National Development Plan and improve infrastructure. In his 2013 budget speech, the Minister of Finance announced that Government would start with a R827 billion investment in the first three years. This infrastructure investment will primarily be channelled through SIPs.
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) will undertake Strategic Environment Assessments (SEAs) to inform the planning and design of the SIPs and the streamlining the regulatory requirements related to the SIPs.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has teamed up with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Council for Geoscience to conduct the SEAs on DEA’s behalf. This approach promotes the building of skills in the public sector, the generation of new learning and knowledge that would not be feasible through a typical ‘consultancy’ approach, as well providing a rare opportunity for specialists in the public service to contribute to landscape level planning and development processes.
The SEAs for the development of Renewable Energy and Electricity Grid Infrastructure are already underway, with environmental specialists from the CSIR and SANBI helping DEA and Eskom to streamline the environmental authorisation process for the expansion of South Africa’s electrical infrastructure. The CSIR and SANBI have been commissioned to undertake a SEA that aims to make planning and building of new power lines more efficient. SANBI is providing significant planning support to ESKOM’s 2040 Transmission corridor route planning.
Using the latest geographic information systems and software, the CSIR and SANBI will create maps and models of features from national parks, commercial forests and world heritage sites to game farms, wetlands, tourist routes, towns and cities. Among areas to avoid are zones with rare or sensitive fauna and flora, and the site of the Square Kilometre Array radio astronomy site, which is highly sensitive to electrical interference.
Vast amounts of data is being gathered by CSIR and SANBI researchers from hundreds of organisations, in a giant visual database which will identify the best route for the future power lines, avoiding some areas but also optimising future power supply to special economic zones identified by government.
The project must also take account of long-term municipal, provincial and national infrastructure plans as well as provincial and local economic development strategies. The project is due for completion in December 2015 after which the CSIR’s recommendations will be taken to cabinet for approval, and the power corridors gazetted for expansion of electrical infrastructure.
The biggest SIPs focus on improving and expanding energy production (mines and power plants), electricity grid infrastructure and roads and railways, which are all aimed at stimulating industrial development, growing the economy and creating jobs. Other SIPs are aimed at improving water and sanitation provision, increasing housing delivery, and building schools, universities and hospitals.
This scaling up our economy will have a significant associated environmental footprint. Government has decided that this should be assessed for each of the SIPs, so that infrastructure can be developed in an environmentally sensitive a manner.
SANBI also anticipates that SEAs for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), and for the mineral and energy potential of the Waterberg will be initiated in the next few months.