Spatial planning law

Industrial facilities on the riverClick to enlarge
construction of more and more new industrial facilities destroys the landscape
Source: fotolehmann /

Many projects that make use of land can have negative environmental impacts. This includes soil sealing or even degradation of natural soils, for example as a result of the construction of buildings or industrial facilities. Landscape fragmentation by streets and railway tracks is also a problem.

Spatial planning law

Soil is a natural resource on which we all live and everybody depends on. It fulfils a great number of ecological, economic, social and cultural functions. The humic topsoil and its natural fertility in particular play an important role as habitat for animals, plants and microorganisms and as farming land. Soils are not renewable within an assessable period of time. Land use for human settlement, transport and other purposes and the partial sealing of soil that it generates lead to a loss of crucial ecological soil functions: loss of habitat, disability to absorb rainwater, and unavailability as farmland.

The fragmentation and excessive dispersion of housing areas splits up habitats of animals and plants  which have evolved over long periods of time. Uninterrupted infrastructures – like housing estates, railway tracks, roads and other transport routes can be insurmountable barriers for animals and plants and sometimes even completely sever the genetic exchange between populations. This fragmentation and excessive dispersion also has a negative effect on people: it is now quite difficult to find a successive stretch of unspoiled nature to enjoy the landscape and peace and quiet. In addition, new roads and human settlements on the outskirts of urban areas are increasing traffic. In its Sustainable Development Strategy of 2002 the Federal Government set a target to reduce the new land use for human settlements and transport area to 30 hectares per day by 2020. According to information from the Federal Statistical Office, the average rate of land use in 2010-2013 was 73 hectares/day (equivalent to about 104 soccer pitches). It follows that even more effort must be made to achieve the Federal Government’s 30-hectare/day target. There are economic and planning instruments which can be implemented for this purpose, but information of the public and citizen participation are also important in the planning processes and in the framework of environmental assessments. The UBA makes proposals on how to create the legal basis for these instruments or on how they can be developed further.

Another important field of action for spatial planning in future will be the subsurface. Commercial land-use requirements of this limited space will increase not only in the extraction of raw materials as the successful transformation of Germany’s energy system (Energiewende) will require more underground storage sites. Conflicting claims of different land uses can therefore be expected to occur more frequently in some areas (e.g. drinking water extraction, raw material extraction, storage, ⁠CCS⁠, geothermal energy, underground disposal). Conflicts concerning protected assets and the public interest in relation to the subsurface and surface areas (e.g. settlement areas, traffic areas, nature and landscape protection areas, marine environment, groundwater reservoirs, and soil organisms) will increase. The objective of subsurface spatial planning must be its sustainable governance and development, that is to say conflicting individual interests and higher interests such as environmental protection must be settled as fairly as possible. Future potential uses must also be safeguarded. The UBA launched a research project to investigate the geological and legal spatial planning basis and improve the knowledge about the subsurface. Its results have been published here: (FKZ: 3711 16 103). A current follow-up project is investigating possible applications and examples of practical subterranean spatial planning (Unterirdische Raumplanung – Fallstudien, FKZ: 3714 93 1080).

Spatial planning must take consideration of these issues and other ecological aspects in decision-making processes. It must weigh these issues against other economic, social and private interests. Spatial planning is regulated at federal level by the Federal Regional Planning Act (ROG) and by the Federal Building Code (BauGB) for local development planning. There is additional specialist law which concerns spatial planning, for example: environmental protection in landscape planning, pursuant to the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG); instruments for flood control included under the Federal Water Act (WHG); and a multitude of other sectoral planning (energy, mining, traffic) which affect the environment. The federal states (Länder) have enacted their own planning laws for the areas that fall within their jurisdiction.

As Europe continues to grow and renewable energies are further developed, so will the demand for transport capacity for passengers, goods, information and energy and raw materials. This will affect land use as the infrastructure for transport and cables is built, and in turn to increasing competition for agriculture and forestry (incl. bioenergy production) and other uses and claims on limited areas of land, at sea and underground. The UBA investigates the potential of planning law to provide environmental protection and the possibilities to improve the law in favour of the environment. Current priority topics are spatial planning in the Exclusive Economic Zone and environmental protection in planning cascades for large-scale projects. The UBA held a workshop on the latter topic in November 2011 in Berlin (Anspruchsvoller Umweltschutz in der Fach- und Raumplanung – Planungskaskaden bei Großvorhaben). A pilot project to test a scheme of tradable land planning permits with 80 selected municipalities in Germany is in place to support the Federal Government’s Sustainability Strategy target to reduce new land use to 30 hectares by 2020.