Investigating the Application of the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) to Regional Planning in the United Kingdom

Article excerpt

This paper considers how the emerging European spatial development policy agenda is influencing the performance of regional strategic planning in the United Kingdom. The European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) was agreed in 1999 as a non-binding and indicative framework intended to guide institutions in the exercise of their spatially significant competences. This paper explores the way in which and the extent to which the spatial planning policy messages and approach of the ESDP have been integrated into the planning process in England and how they have helped to inform the development of substantive objectives for regional planning policy. The research revealed considerable variation in the way that different regions had considered the European agenda and the ESDP as important contexts which can be used to inform strategy and policy development. Overall, the findings suggested that the European context and the ESDP are beginning to be accepted as important frames of reference in the production of Regional Planning Guidance.

The European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) has long been the focus of extensive debate and activity among academics and practitioners both within and outside the Reld of planning. A number of authors have written on the process of preparing the perspective (Giannakourou, 1996; Jorgensen, 1998; Rusca, 1998; Nadin, 2000; Nadin and Shaw, 1999; Davoudi, 1999; Faludi, 2000a; 2000b; 2001; 2003; Faludi, et al. 2000; Williams, 2000; Faludi and Waterhout, 2002), and the way in which the different priorities and interests of the players helped to propel the project forward and give it a particular form and content. In the absence of a formal treaty competence for spatial planning the process was not steered by the Commission and rePected an 'endemic struggle' (Faludi, 2000b, 245) between the member states and the Commission, especially the reluctance of federal nations to cede power to higher levels as rePected by German promotion of the 'counter-current' principle. 'Inevitably, therefore, the high politics of integration forms the shifting context of any attempt at developing supranational spatial policy' (Faludi, 2000b, 246). RePecting this dynamic agenda the whole issue of the place of spatial policy and planning within the European polity has generated debates about competences, regionalism and power shifts between governance levels in Europe. In particular there has been a sustained debate in relation to the competence of the EU in matters of spatial planning (Nadin, 2000b; Eser and Konstadakopulos, 2000) and more recently in relation to the way in which discourses of European spatial planning are de facto already inPuencing the terms of reference for, and the practice of, planning in Europe (Richardson and Jensen, 2001). The present paper relates to such debates and investigates how European spatial planning is in reality inPuencing the 'formal/established' planning system at the regional level within a member state as opposed to informal planning activities designed and funded speciRcally to carry forward the ESDP agenda. Many authors citing Weiler's (1999) threefold typology of European governance (international, supranational and infranational) suggest that the ESDP process, and the role of the informal Committee on Spatial Development (CSD) within it, is a classic example of the 'infranational' approach whereby committees of experts develop policy beyond the established structures of political accountability with low actor visibility (Jensen and Richardson, 2000; Williams, 2000). Jensen and Richardson argue that the process of developing a European spatial planning framework is 'implicitly normative and ideologicalDabout politics and power as much as about rational policy making' (Jensen and Richardson, 2000, 506). RePecting the political nature of the process, the form which the emerging 'perspective' took evolved as the process developed. It was subject to ebbs and Pows as different member states attached different priority to the overall process, and had different priorities and desired outcomes within it (Faludi, 2000a). …