European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research -

COST Action C11

Spatial Planning in Netheralnds

National data on planning systems

Italy

Spain

Norway

Netherlands

Poland

England

Germany

Denmark

France

Sweden

Finland

 Click button to return to COST C11 - WG1B home page
Click here to return to the Progress Report 2002

Spatial Planning Sweden

Bjorn
Malbert

Sweden

The Swedish Planning System

A

THE SWEDISH NATIONAL CONTEXT

A1

Introduction

A1.1

Presentation of the country

Sweden is a very large country covering an area of some 450 000 square kilometres, and extending over nearly 1 600 km from north to south, and 500 km at its broadest point. The considerable north-south differences in latitude bring about a varied climate, providing special conditions, for instance, for farming and forestry. With only nine million inhabitants, the country has a very low density of population, with large differences between the north and the south, and between the urban and rural areas.

Figure 1: Swedish population geography. The heights indicate population density. (National Atlas of Sweden 1991, vol. 3)

 

Sweden is divided into 24 administrative counties (l‰n), and 284 local authority areas or municipalities (kommun). The names of the counties, as a rule, are related to the names of the provinces (landskap), which since medieval times have had no administrative function. The history of the provinces traces back to prehistoric times, with some of them becoming independent kingdoms by the beginning of the middle ages. There is still a deep-rooted feeling for the provinces among the Swedes. The counties date back to 1634. In each county there is a provincial capital where a county governor appointed directly by the central government is responsible for the work of the county authority. The number of municipalities the counties are divided into varies from 1 to about 50, the latter being the case for V‰stra Gˆtalands l‰n, which is a recently implemented amalgamation of three of the counties in the Gˆteborg region of western Sweden

A2 Spatial development

A2.1 Urban growth, demography and space

From being an almost totally agrarian society, the nation has become increasingly industrialised during the 20th Century. In the early 1900s, 70% of the population lived in rural areas. Today this figure has been reduced to approximately 15%. (Nystrˆm 1996, p.9)

 

The Swedish definition of a built-up or 'urban area' is that at least 200 persons must live within an area with a maximum of 200 m between buildings. This means that many 'urban areas' in Sweden might appear to be rather rural for observers from elsewhere in Europe.

 

The main centres of population have always been in the southern part of the country, with the region around the capital city of Stockholm being the largest. Other major centres of population are the regions around Gˆteborg on the west coast, and Malmˆ-Helsingborg in the far south. The increasing population of immigrants and their descendents is also largely concentrated to these three regions. The average population density in Sweden is low in comparison with the rest of Europe, with a density of only approximately 20 inhabitants per km2 (http://www.boverket.se/). This ranges from 3 persons per square kilometre in the northernmost county (Norrbotten) to 95 in the southernmost county (SkÂne) and 248 in the capital city county (Stockholm). (Sveriges Nationalatlas 1999; vol. 1 Sveriges kartor, p 10ff).

Figure 2: New production of flats and single-family houses 1955-2000. (http://www.scb.se/)

About half the households live in flats and half live in single-family houses, flats being more common in the larger towns and cities. A large percentage of the urban population live in effectively designed apartments as opposed to more spacious traditional single-family housing, which dominate the smaller towns and rural areas as well as some suburban housing districts. Living space has increased constantly during the 20th Century. With regard to flats, in 1960 the average figure was 31 square metres per person, and about 30 years later had risen to 46 square metres per person (Nystrˆm 1996 p.33-34). The total figure including single-family houses today is 2.2 persons per dwelling (1.9 persons per dwelling if second homes are taken into account). Due to the more stringent social welfare policies of the past decade, and the increasing gap between low- and high-income groups, this trend is unlikely to continue.

 

High-density living in urban areas is to some degree compensated for by the large proportion of second homes (600 000 cottages or chalets - Nystrˆm 1996, p.9). These are situated in rural places, especially the coastal archipelagos and the forested regions of southern Sweden, and are extensively used by the urban population in the summer period. During later years the number of foreigners, mostly from Germany and Norway, has increased among the ownership and tenants of these leisure time homes.

A2.2 Land use, economics, green spaces

Extensive forests mostly coniferous cover roughly 70% of the total land area of Sweden, and these interspersed by rugged crags and ridges, swamps, lakes and rivers characterise the landscape of the country. In Lapland, and the far north, high mountains border this landscape. Farmland accounts for only approximately 6% of the total land area (Nystrˆm 1996 p.9), but there are however a number of regions in southern Sweden where agricultural land predominates. These include the plains of E and W Gˆtaland, but perhaps the most notable is the southernmost province of SkÂne where the landscape is more characteristic of nearby Denmark. On the whole, agriculture in Sweden is continuing to undergo major rationalisation changes, with increasing unit size, and a correspondingly decreasing number of farming units.

Figure 3: Migration to and from Sweden 1851-1999. (http://www.scb.se/)

 

Large tracts of virgin or semi-virgin terrain, especially in the sparsely populated regions of the north, are designated as national parks. Similarly, there are designated nature reserves mostly situated nearer to the towns and cities.

 

The forested areas have increased by 1 million hectares since the 1920s. This has mainly been brought about through the afforestation of disused farmland. At the same time some forestland has been lost, among other reasons due to urban expansion. 40% of all farmland that was abandoned during the 1960s has turned into woodland, 10-15% has been built on with houses, roads etc and the remainder has become overgrown with bushes, which says something about the pressure on land utilisation outside the cities.

 

At first sight the low density of population and the abundance of untouched land may appear misleading. In practise, in the urban regions where there is any kind of market pressure, there is a shortage of land suitable for development. In the major cities of Stockholm and Gˆteborg the topography of the landscape presents a major problem. In the case of Malmˆ, the third major city, development is hampered by the desire to conserve prime agricultural land.

 

Many urban dwellers, even younger persons, have their roots in the countryside and in a way substitute their desire for green spaces by leaving the towns and 'returning home' in their leisure time. However, there appears to be a small but gradually increasing number of citizens that seldom venture into the countryside. These are mostly young people born and bred in an urban environment, as well as people of all ages with immigrant backgrounds.

 

The ratio between public and private green areas is undoubtedly extremely high in favour of the areas with public access. In Sweden there is a unique 'law by custom' known as the Right of Common Access, which among other things allows more or less free access to walk across privately owned land including forests and farmland not currently under cultivation. This concept has of tradition been commonly accepted, so the issue is not really one of private as opposed to public ownership, as in the case in almost all other European countries.

 

Figure 4: Land use in Sweden 1995. (http://www.scb.se/)

 

In a national context, the quantity of urban green areas does not constitute any real problem. While the immediate local environment may occasionally lack green spaces, there are almost always such areas near at hand. Comparing the quantity of green areas accessible to the public in Swedish towns illustrates the major difference between the southernmost towns surrounded by arable farmland and the more commonplace Swedish town surrounded by forests. Interesting to note is that Malmˆ, Sweden's third city, which is called "the city of parks" does not have any surplus of green areas, but it may be that those that do exist are of high quality. Another possible explanation is of course conscious and skilful marketing by the city administration.

Figure 5: Publicly accessible green areas in percentage of the total area within 5 km from the ten largest cities in Sweden. The difference between Malmˆ on one hand and Gˆteborg and Stockholm on the other, is explained by different geographic situations. While Malmˆ is located in an agricultural productive landscape, Gˆteborg and Stockholm are built on clay and rock in coastal landscapes. (www.scb.se/)

 

 

However, this seemingly idealistic state of affairs is under threat from different causes. One is the acid rain with pollutants originating from the heavily industrialised regions of Western Europe that is already damaging many pine forests, especially in regions where the indigenous levels of acidity in the soil have always been high. Acid rain has also led to the disappearance of fish from many lakes and rivers, and in certain regions considerable amounts of lime are required to reduce the levels of acidity in the watercourses. Increase in road transportation within the country also contributes to this acidification. Not to be forgotten here are also the after-effects of the 1986 Soviet nuclear power disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine. The radioactive fallout left an elongated 'florescent green' zone which included much of the eastern coast and a large segment of northern Sweden. Among other things the high content of caesium rendered large quantities of freshwater fish and venison unfit for human consumption (Bernes & Grundsten 1991, p.16-17).

 

Another main threat to the environment is the high priority given to the private car in urban planning, which involves the construction of huge traffic facilities. The difficult nature of the topography often presents a problem for road building, and where possible to cut construction costs these are planned through, or on, areas of open agricultural land. These operations, on the one hand result in the fragmentation and destruction of existing green areas. On the other hand, this expansion of road transport facilities in and around the towns and cities gives rise to considerable green zones, which are not often apparent in planning documents as being 'green', because they are included in traffic zones. As a result of this, the potential of these green spaces, from ecological, social or cultural points of view, is very seldom manifested. Their 'invisibility' in planning and the lack of knowledge about their resources, together with their scale and inaccessibility, result in an apparent qualitative problem.

A3 Government and governance

A3.1 Development of spatial planning (1950-2001)

Urban planning has a long tradition in Sweden. Strong governmental machinery, and an important public sector with self-governing local authorities helped to create a system geared to providing social welfare in the form of good housing and transportation, social services, education and health-care, public service facilities etc.

 

This system of planning became greatly criticised during the 1970s and 80s. Increasing building costs, cuts in public expenditure and privatisation had a profound influence, and laid the foundation for a so-called planning by negotiation. This kind of planning concept paves the way for large housing corporations and other vested interests to 'buy their way' into the system, and also strongly affects where building can take place. However, at the same time these new concepts of planning also provide for a broader dialogue with local inhabitants, and new more process-oriented municipal planning methods have been developed.

 

This shift in planning policies was implemented legally through the 1987 'Planning and Building Act' (PBL), which replaced the former planning statures. The fundamental difference here was that the previous strongly descriptive legislation, with legally binding Municipal Plans, turned into a policy legislation, stipulating what to be achieved instead of what to do. Broader opportunities for participation through the exhibition of planning proposals and consultations with citizens were emphasised, as well as the obligation to produce plans covering the entire surface area of each municipality including water areas.

A3.2 Institutional setting of planning

The Swedish planning and building legislation points out that land and water shall be used in a way that encourages good long-term and sustainable management in ecological, social and economic terms. The correct term used for this new kind of policy instrument is Comprehensive Plan (ˆversiktsplan ÷P), which indicates its strategic rather than descriptive character. For certain parts, or districts, of the municipal territory In-Depth Comprehensive Plans (fˆrdjupad ˆversiktsplan F÷P) may be drawn up. Here more detailed strategies and guidelines are formulated, and when approved by the City Council they become part of the Comprehensive Plan (÷P) replacing previous more general policy statements for that part or district. These two levels of the Comprehensive Plan will here be called the Municipal Plan (÷P) and the District Plan (F÷P), respectively. The Municipal Plan shall cover the whole municipal territory, including water areas. It is compulsory and has to be reviewed regularly and adjusted according to prevailing policy.

 

The control of land use and development within a municipality, takes place through Detailed Development Plans (detaljplan DP). These plans, here called Local Plans, cover only areas to be developed in the near future, and are obligatory when developing a new area. Apart from being more detailed, they include the legislative rights to develop in accordance with the plan. The Local Plan includes a description of how to implement the plan (genomfˆrandebeskrivning). It states who is responsible for the construction and maintenance of common ground and other common properties of the area, as a result of the negotiation of the planning process. For limited areas not covered by a Local Plan, Area Regulations (omrÂdesbest‰mmelser) may be adopted if they are required to achieve the intentions of the Municipal Plan, or to ensure the safeguarding of national interests. Area Regulations make it possible to regulate only some aspects of the Municipal Plan. Property Regulation Plans (fastighetsplan) may further be adopted in order to facilitate the implementation of Local Plans.

 

Regional Plans (regionplan) may also be adopted for the co-ordination of the planning of several municipalities. Only the Stockholm region has a formal regional planning institution. Elsewhere, the government can approve the making of formal regional plans following voluntary applications from the municipal authorities concerned.

 

For the construction of buildings, as well as for the excavation or filling in of a site, or the felling or planting of trees, a permit is required either in the form of a Building Permit, Demolition Permit or Site Improvement Permit. The PBL describes very concisely where and when a Local Plan shall be adopted, which applies especially in the case of new continuous developments and new buildings the use of which will have a significant impact on their surroundings. Area Regulations grant exception from building permit requirements, and permits may be granted for individual buildings in the countryside without any Local Plan or Area Regulations.

 

Although planning is a municipal responsibility, the central government has the right and is obliged to take part in and supervise the planning process from a very early stage through the County Administrative Board (L‰nsstyrelsen) as well as the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket).

Figure 6: Environmental and planning legislation in Sweden. The white letters describe the 15 environmental objectives for sustainable development to be implemented through the planning system.

 

The planning process passes at least three phases. Firstly, the programme stage where the ideas are gathered, and the project is outlined in rather broad terms. Secondly, the consultation stage, which is still at the beginning of the process, and the opportunities for the public to make their voices heard are considerable i.e. at least if they are familiar with the planning process. Thirdly, the exhibition stage, where the project begins to take firm shape, but the public has still the possibility of influencing the project. After this the municipal council takes the plan for approval.

A3.3 Environmental awareness

Environmental awareness is relatively high throughout the population. Unlike in many other countries a number of the issues raised by environmentalists in the 1970s and 80s have, in the typically Swedish manner, been 'absorbed' by the establishment. Now in the early 2000s, a broad scale of involvement has started to become evident, and both within local councils and private enterprises a range of environmentally friendly practices is in the process of being adopted. In the Agenda 21 epoch, since the UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro 1992, the one time 'activist' environmental movement has in many ways started to become 'respectable'!

 

One of the most distinctive features of Swedish towns and cities is that they are small and have a close relationship to the surrounding terrain. Parks, green zones and lakes are often of significant cultural and historical value. Green zones have as elsewhere traditionally been treated as areas for new development. However, in recent years many Municipal Plans have pointed out the importance of conserving certain areas for the protection of plants and wild life, and for recreational purposes. Furthermore, since 1995, the Natural Resources Act has facilitated the prevention of exploitation within such areas by an amendment for safeguarding landscapes of natural and cultural importance in cities.

 

Many local authorities produce different types of basic documentation for their Municipal Plan. During recent years, special green plans in which the local authority decides the future development and conservation of green zones, have become increasingly common. Since 1999, a so-called 'Environmental Code' (Miljˆbalken) has been brought into commission, and this is legislation for all environmental matters functioning parallel to the Planning and Building Act. Thus, in certain cases the planned development has to be tested according to both systems. The Environmental Code has replaced a number of acts such as the Environmental Protection Act, the Water Act, the Nature Conservation Act etc, all of these previously being co-ordinated with the PBL under the Act of the Management of Natural Resources. Even though the Environmental Code is a serious attempt to gather all environmental legislation, today it appears somewhat problematic to get these two legislations to work together.

 

The National City Parks Concept provides opportunities to protect green areas in cities and metropolitan regions of national interest with regard to the natural and cultural landscape heritage. (Nystrˆm, 1996, p.75) The first such park (situated to north of the centre in Stockholm) was designated in 1995 (Linder in Guinchard, 1997, p.126-129).

 

The subject of water has been touched upon above. Generally speaking there is an abundance of pure water for all needs. Apart from providing fresh water fish for domestic needs, most of the rivers also produce clean hydroelectric power. Because of the adverse environmental effects with regard to the large-scale transformations of the landscapes involved, however, the few remaining unregulated rivers in the north of Sweden are unlikely to be exploited in the future. A number of watercourses previously polluted by industrial effluents, have undergone processes of restoration in the last decades. In this context, what may be unique for Sweden, is the various associations for the protection of watercourses, which includes monitoring pollution. These are locally or regionally based, and most likely cover every hydrological system in Sweden.

A3.4 Planning answers and approaches to current situation

Around the beginning of the 1990s, the green structure concept was introduced in the Swedish planning debate. This concept emerged mainly as a result of the increasing attention given to ecological aspects of urban development during the preceding decade. Green structure, interpreted as water and all areas free from buildings and covered surfaces, has a multi-functional meaning in urban development. The concept has created opportunities for focusing on the whole complex system of green areas impossible to organise according to administrative units. The fact that the green structure concept corresponds to concepts such as infrastructure or building structure implies both a risk to disregard the scale variation of the urban landscape, and a potential for the integration of green areas in urban design and planning. It is furthermore possible to identify two categories of green structure; the 'formal' and the 'actual' green structure. While the formal green structure represents all areas designated as green in planning documents, actual green structure represents all areas that fit into the general green structure definition above. Thus, the concept of actual green structure represents a new way of looking at urban greenery. (Lundgren Alm 2001, see also Birgersson et al. (2001) Workpackage 1 report for a brief history)

 

Urban planning practice has changed during the last decades of the 20th century following the social turn of events often referred to as a move from government to governance. This change in urban planning may be called 'the communicative turn' (e.g. Healey 1997). Urban change is the result of many actors' decisions and actions that must be co-ordinated if greater goals like sustainable development shall be achieved. The striving for sustainable development has also introduced new types of knowledge in the planning process, for instance, ecology. Furthermore, a broader participation of citizens and various experts is involved. Thus the search for tools for communication and learning is emphasised in planning research and practice in Sweden as well as in many other parts of the world. Main communication problems can be found between experts from different disciplines or sectors, as well as between planners and such experts, and laymen decision makers, and citizens. Here the communication of different kinds of knowledge and experience is sometimes a demanding challenge, containing aspects of democracy and power.

A5 Conclusions

The Swedish representative democracy system and planning legislation give considerable formal opportunities for the citizens to make their voices heard in the planning process. However, in reality very few people enter into the planning process, which is often reduced to one-way communication of written materials. People normally do not react until the planning influences their conditions right here and now.

 

The late urbanisation and low density of population in Sweden may have contributed to a special relationship to natural environment, and a deeply rooted longing for the countryside among Swedes. There is a broad consensus about landscape values and environmental concerns. There is also an obvious unwillingness to accept any densification or urban development activities close to their own places. Thus, although as a whole there is a large amount of unbuilt land in and around Swedish cities, there are often conflicts about these issues in the cities.

 

There is no actual shortage of green and open spaces in and around Swedish towns and cities. During the past 50 years, the construction of large-scale traffic facilities and housing areas has resulted in large amounts of leftover green and open spaces. In planning practice there is a lack of knowledge about these green areas, which in many cases are not even visible or identified in plans and other documents. However, these green spaces are often utilised by local citizens, whose knowledge could be valuable for planners, even though this may be difficult to apply in practise.

 

An open area that from the planning point of view may be regarded as being a leftover land reserve, might in reality be of great importance for local actors. There is a need for increased local knowledge in the planning process, which could be attained by improved communication strategies.

National data on planning systems

Italy

Spain

Belgium?

Netherlands

France

Poland

England

Germany

Denmark

Norway?

Lithuania?

Czech Republic?

Finland

Sweden

To add your own definitions or ideas just email Anne Beer.

Meetings

Background

Archive

Return to top of page

Meetings

Background

Archive

Return to top of page

Meetings

Background

Archive

Return to top of page

Meetings

Background

Archive

Return to top of page

Meetings

Background

Archive

Return to top of page

Meetings

Background

Archive

Return to top of page