Report: ‘EU needs effective urban-planning policy’

Many environmental problems are caused by the rapid expansion of urban areas, according to a new report on “urban sprawl” published by the European Environment Agency on 24 November.

Urban sprawl has major negative impacts on the quality of life of citizens living in and around cities. 

Increased consumption of energy, land and soil as well as the need for more transport infrastructure lead to serious environmental problems. Sprawling cities are also a source of increasing greenhouse-gas emissions.

As middle- and upper-income families tend to find housing in the greener peripheral areas, poorer citizens who do not have the same financial mobility are stuck in the inner cities. This leads to greater segregation of residential development and exacerbates economic divisions. These socio-economic impacts were clearly demonstrated in the 2005 riots in French cities.

The report indicated that EU cohesion and structural funds are among the major contributors to urban sprawl in Europe. New member states, therefore, should be provided with “policy guidelines to help avoid the environmental pitfalls that a sudden injection of funds can encourage”, said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA executive director.

Although the EU has little or no competences in the area, urban development is fast moving up the European political agenda. One of the priorities of the upcoming German EU Presidency will be the role of cities as motors for economic growth and sustainability. Germany will be holding an informal ministerial meeting on territorial cohesion and urban development in Leipzig on 24-25 May 2007. On the occasion of this meeting, the EU will adopt a 
Territorial Agenda for the European Union
.

In January 2006, the Commission launched a Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment as part of the seven strategies called for by the 6th Environmental Action Programme (see EURACTIV 16 Jan 2006). It is also preparing a Green Paper on Urban Transport (expected for September 2007).

Europe is one of the most urbanised continents in the world, with some 75% of its population living in cities. The continuing expansion of urban into surrounding countryside ("urban sprawl"), effected with little planning and driven by market forces, is fast becoming one of the main 'ignored' challenges facing Europe. This is the main conclusion of a new report presented by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on 24 November 2006.

The report 'Urban sprawl in Europe. The ignored challenge' looks at the origins, drivers and impacts of this phenomenon. It concludes that the EU needs policies to "co-ordinate and control" urban planning.

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