Master Planning: Two success factors

While we develop a master plan to shape the future of a city, country or region, lack of implementation can convert any ambitious plan into another report to be shelved. International Finance Institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank or AfDB provide excellent support to local authorities to develop such master plans. But where things go wrong is not a secret. Lack of proper funding can inhibit the actual implementations of plans. We often see a great number of transport master plans being developed, for example, but then very little is actually achieved at the implementation stage.

In order to futureproof such plans, there are certain things that need to be addressed during the planning process. And these are particularly crucial in the context of developing countries. Two key success factors, sometimes overlooked, are the bankability of the master plan itself and the endorsement of development partners.

The first and foremost is the bankability of the plans. There is no doubt that we all try to set an ambitious target, however there needs to be clear balance between ambition and pragmatism. It warrants a strong business case for options, both policy and physical infrastructure, as a part of the planning process. Sometimes an ambitious plan totally undermines the local context and loses its credibility at a later stage. Having said that, it is also not about undermining the aspiration, it is about the good marriage between aspiration and realistic goals. While technical or engineering feasibility may be too much of an ask at a master planning stage; strategic, financial and economic feasibility should have a proper ground in sifting of schemes.

In developing countries, where the reliance on external investment is so high, the planning process requires an additional step. It is the assurance of implementation, availability fund to be precise. Sometimes, the donor endorsement is overlooked when a planning process is carried out. But this is one of the top end success factors. A plan must be developed in collaboration with the development partners wherever possible. It can be argued that private sector involvement would be premature at the planning stage but International Finance Institutions (IFIs) should certainly have a major role to play. One of the ways to ensure that is to put more effort on financial planning at the master planning stage.

The planning process in Rwanda can be presented as a good example of this. The country developed their Strategic Transport Master Plan (STMP) in 2012. A year later AfDB carried out another study to develop an action plan for Rwanda considering the bankable options. The study looked into details of the financial requirements of implementation and the potential source of funding. Such an action plan certainly provides confidence to the private sector financier as well as IFIs to be development partners.

Atkins is currently developing the Malawi National Transport Master Plan (MNTMP). One of the key features of our process is continuous liaison with Malawi’s development partners. We have already delivered a workshop to introduce the master plan to the development partners. The project steering committee includes representatives from all the major IFIs, along with government officials. We are also carrying out regional integration missions in six different neighbouring countries which will offer a high degree of confidence to the potential investors and financiers in future.

It is, therefore, pertinent to consider both long sighted and coordinated financial planning approaches in order to develop a bankable master plan. 

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