EU spatial planning strategy "getting greener"

Proposals for more harmonious development based on sustainability to be approved in May

A new multi-sectoral approach to spatial planning in Europe has "considerable potential to promote sustainable development" across the continent, NGO alliance the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has claimed. The European Commission's latest thinking on the plan was discussed at a meeting with 700 delegates last week in Brussels.

The draft European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) sets out non-binding principles for long-term approaches to planning across Europe and is expected to be approved by EU governments in May. According to the Commission, the ESDP will transcend national boundaries and different sectors by developing a cross-cutting, multi-sectoral perspective. Sustainable development is one of its three main foundations, along with economic and social cohesion and balanced competitiveness between different areas.

A first draft presented two years ago was criticised by NGOs for - as they saw it - stressing economic development over the environment and aiming for a balance between urban centres over one between human developments and natural heritage. EU regional affairs commissioner Monika Wulf-Mathies responded at last week's conference, promising that the EU's structural funds for disadvantaged regions would not only be greened in future, but would also reflect ESDP priorities.

Previously, her department, which has overall responsibility for coordinating the ESDP, had maintained that spatial coordination of measures "is neither required nor forms part of the procedures of appraisal, approval and practical implementation" in relation to structural funds. Commission officials also said that future revisions of the ESDP would specifically deal with how to integrate new member states into the different trans-European networks.

Much more detailed analysis needs to be done, in the meantime, to ensure that a strong spatial perspective is used not only to evaluate but also to frame the EU's sectoral policies, according to Neil Sinden of the EEB. NGOs claim that no regional assessments have been made of the impact of specific EU policies in the past. They want harmonised information to be collected on land uses and indicators to be developed to enable the ESDP's effectiveness to be monitored.

"We would like more horizontal integration between the different ESDP areas, rather than the vertical integration proposed now," says Tony Long of the World Wide Fund for Nature's European policy office. "We would also like a vision of exactly what is wanted in future planning, such the percentage of wetlands in Europe as a whole."

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111 European Environmental Bureau, tel: +32 2 289 1090.

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