Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

European Spatial Planning: Past, Present and Future

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

European Spatial Planning: Past, Present and Future

Article excerpt

During the launch era of the European Union, there were unsuccessful attempts to make spatial planning part of the European project. This paper identifies three subsequent phases of integration. During the doldrums era, initiatives were channelled through the Council of Europe. Since the start of the boom era, spatial planning has been related to EU cohesion policy. As we move into the fourth phase, characterised by doubts about integration, what does the future bring? The Lisbon Treaty settles the issue of a lack of competence, but uncertainty continues because the future of cohesion policy as such is unsettled. While the journey continues, will it be retained, and if so, what will the role of territorial cohesion policy be? Will territorial cohesion policy be barely tolerated, or will it become a mainstay of cohesion policy?

In the present context of the European Union (EU), it seems disingenuous to invoke the term 'spatial planning'. Certainly since the Commission published its 'Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion' (CEC, 2008), government experts and other stakeholders have widely discussed the meaning of territorial cohesion. In contrast with territorial cohesion, by common agreement spatial planning is said not to be a competence of the EU. The spatial planning that the EU wants no part of are those functions of a body of government, with a legal mandate, to control development, usually with reference to a statutory legally binding land-use plan.

The meanings of words are not cast in stone, but depend on who is using them, when and why. Thus, whereas the EU presently has reasons not to invoke the term 'spatial planning', the present author has reason to do so. After all, many planners entertain a view of spatial planning other than that of regulating development. They view spatial planning as the formulation of integrated strategic spatial frameworks to guide public, as well as, private action. This puts spatial planning more in the context of governance than government, where mutual understanding and commitment are as important as statutory powers. Seen in this light, there could be no objection against calling the emergent EU practice (about which more below) spatial planning rather than territorial cohesion policy, as is the present practice.

Indeed, the then Commissioner for regional policy, Monika Wulf-Mathies, when addressing the ministers of spatial planning during their discussions of the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) in Madrid in 1995, did use the term 'spatial planning', arguing that this was implied in EU policy in order to strengthen economic and social cohesion. This merely needed to be clarified in the reform of the European treaties, eventually resulting in the Treaty of Amsterdam which came into operation in 1997. When member states disregarded this argument, the Commission switched to invoking the concept of territorial cohesion in the early 2000s.

The point of reminding readers of this episode is not to prove wrong all those who prefer to talk about territorial cohesion rather than spatial planning. There is no right or wrong in such matters. The use of words depends on context and intentions. The Commission's intention has been to break out of the impasse concerning a Community competence for spatial planning. The author's intention is to retain the link with spatial planning. That's all there is to it.

As indicated, there is much discussion about territorial cohesion in the consultations on the Green Paper (CEC, 2008) that ended in February 2009 (for the many stakeholder contributions, see the DG Regio website, policy/consultation/terco/contrib_en.htm). This is not surprising. Waterhout (2008; see also Faludi, 2006) sees territorial cohesion as an umbrella for the pursuit of balanced development, competitiveness, sustainability and good territorial governance. The first three are common concerns shared with other policy areas. …

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