Planning Policy on Urban Greenspaces in three EU countries (extracts from a preliminary draft of current comparative research for the EU COST 11 project - the informantion from other countries will be added in Dec. 2000)





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England and Wales (A.Beer,2000)

Denmark (K.Attwell,2000)

Italy (L.Martincigh,2000)


There are fairly strong national policies to cover the preservation of ecologically valuable habitats and species in our cities.

The application of these policies has tended to be based on an "island" approach - one which involves drawing a line round an area of land, so preserving it from development - an approach which takes no account of the role of the surrounding land cover in the continued existence of a particular habitat. In some cases, where the natural topography dictates, these areas are in the form of corridors, but they are still on the whole dealt with by the planning process as if they are isolated "islands" of relatively valuable habitat.


Conserving these "islands" of land once they have been designated as of value is much more haphazard - well done in some urban areas, but neglected in others. National policies have so far been of little help in this and where unscrupulous landowners have let an area of land decline, often over several decades, there have been many cases where once ecologically valuable land has been reallocated as developable, at great profit to the landowner.


There has been a general presumption in planning policy for some time that "nature in cities" is a good thing and wherever possible local authorities have sought to protect areas identified as of some ecological value. However, when up against the employment prospects offered by those wishing to develop a particular area of land, or the income prospects for a city in allowing a taxable use of land, there is really little contest. This is an area of planning with which local pressure groups have been much involved as they vainly try to protect their favourite areas of "rough" land.


In effect, long-term landscape management and habitat conservation is haphazard in many of our urban areas and most often in the hands of the voluntary sector which has to raise private funds to undertake any necessary work and sometimes even to purchase the land. There are sad stories of local nature conservation groups cherishing small areas of land only to find that "the planners" let housing, roads or some other development take over.


There are strong national and now local policies in place to enhance biodiversity, with performance indicators set out by the DETR at national level. However, I would argue that the lack of any overall planning framework concept such as "urban greenstucture plans" means that the "island" and "firefighting" approaches are still the norm in relation to managing biodiversity in our cities. We lack a mechanism which not only preserves the best of what is left of nature in our urban areas, but also allows us to develop effective city-wide strategies to enhance biodiversity through utilising the full range of greenspaces in a city, including the domestic gardens, industrial land and all private and public agency land.


The rural fringe of most cities is strongly defined in local planning documents, even when "Green Belt" land is not so designated. There has been much public debate in recent months in the many local settlements being earmarked for expansion to meet the present housing demand about whether development should be allowed in rural fringe sites.

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In Denmark there are national policies on the protection of valuable habitats (Nature Conservancy Act 1992/1997). This refers to all areas, so even if cities are not mentioned specifically, they are generally included.


In rural zones, there are preservation lines (dunes, forests, water bodies, etc.), which do not apply within the existing urban zone. However, together with preservation of valuable landscapes, they are important in relation to urban growth in protecting these zones and areas from urban development.This Act thus partly determines the greenstructure in the newer parts of towns and cities.


Another important Act is the Urban and Rural Zones Act from 1970, which together with the Nature Conservancy Act and the Planning Act (regional and municipal planning - also originating from the 1970s), has kept a clear demarcation between urban and rural areas, which is characteristic for Denmark. The Acts ensure that urban growth happens as a combined result of planning and political interests.


The result is rarely an "island" approach, but due to more linear valuable landscapes (coastal, river valleys etc.) greenspaces are more frequently wedges (e.g. the Copenhagen Finger plan).

Where natural landscape features are rare, i.e.. there is no landscape to protect, the fate of the new greenstructures in the urban growth areas depends on the local city council.The municipality itself determines the size, location, content and quality of the designated green areas.

Planning Policy issued at national level:

Piano Territoriale di Coordinamento - PTC

Co-ordination Land Plan - (law n. 1150/1942); it can act as a landscape plan and must take into account the following norms and policies stemming from other specific plans:

- Piano Paesistico (Landscape Plan) - (law n. 1497/1939 and following modifications)

- Piano di Bacino (Hydrographic Basins Plan - (law n. 183/1989)

- Piano per il Parco (Parks Plan) - (law n. 394/1991); it is an attuative and political tool, it defines natural protected areas

- Norms for special areas, as mountain areas.


Plan issues at provincial level:

Piano Territoriale Provinciale - PTP

Provincial Land Plan - (law n. 1150/1942); an intermediate planning tool between Regions and Municipalities


There is little about nature within cities.

PUBLIC OPEN SPACE - the formally designated greenspaces and city squares

Under the new Planning Policy Guidelines 2000 it is anticipated that there will be instructions to local authorities to retain and maintain all officially designated Parks, Public Squares, Recreation Grounds and Playing Fields (many of the latter have already been sold to be built over in the past decade). there is also a recognition at last that we need to enhance the social and cultural value of these official "Urban Open Spaces".

However, these officially designated Public Open Spaces are only a small part of the "greenspaces" of our cities and the "unofficial greenspaces" are likely to continue to be under pressure from developers under this new Planning Policy Guidance. Coupled with the stress on densification as a means to cope with our very high housing demand - estimated at plus 1.4 million homes over the next 20 years - this leaves many more "naturalistic" city landscapes vulnerable to developers. There are several instances of recent local planning enquiries where developers have won the right to build on "greens" of long-term standing, just because they have never been officially designated as "Public Open Space" by the local authority even though they have been well used by the local people as recreation spaces.

The Danish Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has in a recent action plan for urban policies included the urban green by promoting nature in cities a separate action area, the pursuit of which is currently being discussed in the ministry.

The Danish Ministry of Energy and Environment has in their 1999 (annual) account included policies on nature and environment. These state that existing urban green spaces must be protected and developed, large as well as small local green spaces, and that nature ("wild" and "manicured") must be better integrated as part of the municipal planning as well as that urban allotment areas must be protected.

However, greenspaces in other land use areas than public open space, e.g.. in residential and industrial zones, are not protected in the same way. They are only protected by municipal regulation on maximum building density and open space requirements, which may be changed by the local plan procedure. These "secondary" greenspaces, which frequently comprise large parts of the urban greenstructure, are never visible in the formal greenstructure plans, and thus - except for a few fine municipal exceptions - have little political interest so far.

In Italy, main task could be parks management; according to their dimension and location they could be managed by different authorities, for instance, in the case of Rome, there are municipal parks, provincial parks, regional parks.

A design unit that can be identified by "open spaces" does not exist, neither at legal nor at spatial management level; so open spaces have no specific rules, but they can be planned according to the above mentioned Ministry Decree n. 1444/1968, at national level, or to PPI law, at local level.


Planning issues at municipal level are covered by:

- Piano Regolatore Generale - PRG

Urban Master Plan - (law n. 1150/1942); it foresees several planning tools; among them:

Piani Particolareggiati - (Specific Plans) - (law n. 1150/1942 and following modifications); for what concerns urban spaces and green design, we can refer only to urban planning standards (Ministry Decree n. 1444/68) where the minimum standards for facilities and public spaces per inhabitant are defined; moreover, for what concerns parking spaces , the main tool is law n. 122/1989 (the so- called Legge Tognoli).

Piani di settore (Sectorial plans) - these are plans with specific goals, including aspects related to green.

Programma Pluriennale di Attuazione - PPA (Long-term Attuative Plan) - it can last 3-5 years

Programmi Integrati di Intervento - PPI

Integrated Interventions Programs (law n. 179/1992) - these are programs for the upgrading of the building and of the environmental contexts, that can be promoted and approved by each municipality; they cannot be subordinated to PPAs; in them special issues are:

-the soils plan - qualitative enhancement of public and private outdoor spaces

-the area plan/ the urban rehabilitation program - they concern works aimed at carrying out, managing and upgrading public areas, also with regards to urban furniture

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The special urban landscapes of the older Parks and Residential areas as well as City Centres which survived the devastation of 1960s planning practice have been well protected for several decades by policies allowing them to have Conservation Area status. However, the lack of money at the local authority level to maintain these landscapes and in the case of housing the lack of a mechanism to enforce maintenance by landowners has led in many cities to a continuing deterioration in their visual quality.

In the case of Urban parks this deterioration has been associated with social problems which have alienated the local people from use of the parks. It is understood that both these issues are being addressed in the new planning policy guidance.

Many Parks are at present being revitalised using a mixture of EU funding, Heritage funding from the State Lottery and locally raised funds. However, the problem of how to pay for their maintenance after the rehabilitation has rarely been properly addressed so the high cost approach that has resulted from this system may well backfire - few of the redesigns appear to have taken sustainabilty seriously.

Again the lack of an overarching concept in relation to "Greenstructure" has meant that each of these rehabilitated parks has been done as an isolated project rather than as part of an overall strategy for a city which would have included the financial aspects of the long term maintenance of city owned open spaces.

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Apart from what has already been said above, densification within an existing area or renovation projects (including open space renovation) often leads to loss of landscape and loss of mature trees.

This deterioration in local urban landscape quality is due to partly lack of knowledge about tree growth, but also partly because of the way in which the contracts are organised. The actions of the various subcontractors and their professional advisers are not properly co-ordinated and the actual economic spending for the different parts of the job not properly balanced so that landscape work is not properly funded. Also in relation to tree stands in especially housing developments we experience a problem of neglect of necessary pruning of trees which mitigates against proper development of large trees and stands of large trees.

There are no national policies, but in some cases local ones, according to PPI directions. Particular spatial configurations, representative of historical values or local landmarks (for instance the Pine tree and the panorama of the Gulf of Naples), are safeguarded as "Natural Beauties", by law n. 1497/1939. According to this direction, a very recent law set the "status" of monument for old, historical trees.


There is no policy in England and Wales with regard to urban greenstructure planning. the concept is missing from the Planning System.

The lack of greenstructure planning in England has been all too obvious this week in England when vast acres of new housing, industry and shopping built on floodplains has been inundated! The cost to society of not having greenstructure planning a part of which would have identified the floodplains as land not to built over - is immense. The insurance bills for this week will be economically damaging never mind the very large number of home owners who now discover they own unsaleable houses.!

The curious thing is that a version of "Greenstructure Planning" did operate from the 1950s to the early 1970s in the planning of the British New Towns - all of which had Landscape Plans which were based on a thorough study of the local natural and physical environment. The result was that the built-up areas of most new towns strongly reflected the local topography - keeping well clear of the valleys - the floodable land as well as preserved the most valuable natural habitats within the designated area boundaries incorporating them where possible into the linked greenspaces system which was another by-product of almost all the landscape plans produced for these new settlements.

The concept that governed the spatial layout of the New Towns - that the physical and natural environment should determine the arrangement of the "built form" needs to be urgently revisited and rethought. I would suggest locally appropriate "Greenstructure Plans" are the means to do this. The original concept can now be updated in light of our increased understanding of the need to act sustainably in our interaction with the natural and physical environment - issues relating to biodiversity and climate change as well as our increasing understanding of how human attitudes and behaviour patterns are influenced by nearby greenspaces need to be integral to such plans.

For such "Greenstructure Plans" to be effective they need to be of equal importance to a town's Infrastructure Plans and its Economic and Social plans in the decision making process. In addition the last week's flooding has shown us that any effective "Urban Greenstructure Plan" will have to take into account a city's impact on areas of land well beyond city boundaries both upstream and downstream.

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The Planning Act ensures that that municipal planning provides the objectives for the development and land use of the municipality, including "Greenstructure". However, Greenstructure here just means the public open spaces and does not include all the other greenspaces which make up a city.

The municipality itself determines the size, location, content and quality of these designated greenspaces. Once laid out as green area in the land use plan, these areas cannot be built on without a local planning procedure which involves public participation. This means, that it is fairly difficult, but not impossible to change the landuse. We have seen examples where parks, allotment gardens and forest areas have been imposed on or eradicated by public buildings, housing or infrastructure developments.

There is no urban Greenstructure Planning in Italy. There are however some examples of large "green" systems which are protected such as as fluvial parks within cities, and so on.

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© A.R.Beer, 4 Nov 2000