Spatial planning is struggling to establish a foothold in the formal policy processes within the European Union. However, the European heritage surrounding spatial planning is increasingly serving as the frame of reference for national planning practices. Particularly the planners themselves hold the key for improvement, says Bas Waterhout of the OTB Research Institute for Housing, Urban & Mobility Studies (TU Delft).
Spatial planning is not a formal European policy field, but national planners are eager to develop a form of spatial policy at European level. The past eight years in particular have seen the further institutionalisation of European planning. In view of the great differences between the working of the sector-based EU and the planning principles developed by the member states, substantial results have been achieved. Since the adoption of the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) in 1999, progress has been made in the form of e.g. the creation of a successful research network (ESPON) in 2002, the adoption of the Territorial Agenda for the EU in 2007 and a further detailing of substantive views and ideas. Nevertheless, spatial planning policy documents have virtually no impact on decision-making processes in European policy sectors. The solutions put forward by European planners are recognised but are still perceived to be too abstract for tackling concrete problems. Only the European territorial cohesion policy currently under development appears to be genuinely susceptible to the messages from the planners.
The European spatial planning discourse assumes that giving the spatial perspective a place in the sector policy would facilitate more integrated and better-balanced decision-making: better spatial coordination between European subsidies and more attention for spatial implications of e.g. environmental guidelines such as Natura 2000 and the Air Quality Directive. It is also assumed that spatial structures that cross national borders (nature areas, infrastructure and urban networks) demand European spatial cooperation. It is clear that the EROP and later initiatives have failed to bring about either. However, these initiatives do have influence at national level. This is particularly noticeable in countries and regions with limited planning traditions (Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Portugal) or where a new planning model is being developed (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic). But European ideas are also used as input for spatial planning agendas that are currently being developed in such countries as Denmark and Slovenia.
Waterhout also studied the Europeanisation of Dutch spatial planning. Though the European context has played a role for decades here, the cohesion-oriented EROP has won few plaudits. And the Space Memorandum has actually made Dutch spatial planning policy even less European. The attention at national level is mainly focused on the (undesirable) spatial impact of European directives. The Netherlands has difficulty translating these directives into national law. So this is where the search for possible solutions must start.
To achieve greater impact as spatial planners, the internal cohesion between the parts must improve, both in substantive and organisational terms. In this connection, less attention should be devoted to obtaining internal consensus and more to the forging of coalitions with influential actors outside the network. In addition, planners should demonstrate their added value more convincingly, e.g. by proving via (cross-border) projects that the inclusion of spatial planning in the decision-making process leads to a more coherent policy.
Bas Waterhout, 2008, The institutionalisation of European spatial planning. DUP Science, Sustainable Urban Areas 18. Amsterdam (IOS Press). ISBN 978-1-58603-882-3.