EU spatial planning action plan approved

Twelve-point programme includes moves towards sustainable regional development

EU spatial planning ministers meeting in Tampere, Finland, have agreed a twelve-point action programme to implement a major new framework policy for spatial planning. The process will involve several elements aiming at more sustainable planning in Europe, according to officials in the Finnish presidency, which organised the meeting.

The action programme marks a first practical implementation of the European spatial development perspective (ESDP), an over-arching framework for EU spatial planning approved in May. The non-binding strategy is the first ever EU strategy for developing the territories of member states and lays down guidelines for balanced and sustainable development of Europe's regions.

One key link between the ESDP action programme and sustainable development is its target of developing a common EU concept for territorial impact assessment (TIA), which aims at assessing the regional implications of land-use planning. Some EU countries already have some form of TIA while others do not, Risto Kärkkäinen of the Finnish environment ministry told ENDS Daily.

Moreover, the Finnish government would like to see a link developing between TIA policies and the EU plan for a directive on the environmental assessment of land-use plans, known as the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) directive. According to Mr Kärkkäinen, there are divergent opinions on this issue. Finland already has a regional element in existing national rules for environmental assessment of land-use plans. Others, such as Germany, are in favour of maintaining separation between the two.

Another proposal under the action programme is to integrate ESDP principles into EU transport planning, and especially the TENS networks. Key to this, says Mr Kärkkäinen, is the idea that transport planning should serve a broader territorial development policy, aiming at avoiding the growth of megacities at the expense of rural and remote areas, rather than being developed for its own ends.

It is a priority of the action programme to organise a high-level joint meeting of transport and spatial planning authorities to discuss the issue. A series of joint EU Council meetings between the two sectors is intended to follow this, according to Mr Kärkkäinen.

Other action programme elements with direct environmental policy implications include a recognition that the ESDP must become the accepted policy framework for the EU's structural funds, which channel large sums of money into infrastructure and other development projects, mainly in poorer EU regions. The action programme also states that "mainstreaming" of urban sustainable development policies within the structural funds programme is a "major challenge".

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111. References: Press releases on the 4-5 October Tampere meeting are posted on the web site of the Finnish EU presidency.

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