Spatial planning gives geographical expression to the economic, social, cultural and ecological policies of society. It is at the same time a scientific discipline, an administrative technique and a policy developed as an interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach directed towards a balanced regional development and the physical organisation of space according to an overall strategy.
Man and his well-being as well as his interaction with the environment are the central concern of regional/spatial planning, its aims being to provide each individual with an environment and quality of life conducive to the development of his personality in surroundings planned on a human scale. Regional/spatial planning should be democratic, comprehensive, functional and oriented towards the longer term.
Spatial planning should promote sustainable land use while ensuring a more balanced geographical distribution of economic activities. It should help avoid excessive pressure on certain parts of the territory and take account of ecological requirements everywhere.
The richness and diversity of rural and urban landscapes in Europe is a distinctive feature of the continent. Spatial development aimed at promoting economic and social cohesion, as well as sustainable development, will benefit from a pan-European approach. Spatial planning has to rely on the principles of subsidiarity, participation and transparency.
Spatial planning can play an important role, in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity across an entire territory: a) at the local and regional level, by pointing out the benefits to be expected from sustainable land-use – notably in socio economic terms – when it can facilitate partnership between the local/regional authorities, economic actors, local and indigenous communities, NGOs and biodiversity conservators; and b) at the strategic level, spatial planning highlights the inter-linkage between the different tiers of Government and between different policies competing for the same natural resources. Spatial planning means setting out a common set of longer term objectives to be carried out through mutually compatible measures tailored to the socio-economic and environmental characteristics of the space to which they apply.
Spatial planning initiatives should pay particular attention to: ecological corridors and buffer zones; unprotected and sensitive areas with high levels of biodiversity such as mountains, coastal areas and islands, and rural areas in order to ensure better synergy between economic and conservation objectives. In coastal zones spatial planning must incorporate both land and sea activities, and at borders, coordination between countries.
The Environmental Programme for Europe recommends: (1) promoting regular reporting and exchange of information on relevant legal and other arrangements at local and subregional levels on the application of land-use planning as a tool for sustainable development and management of physical areas; (2) entering into partnerships with stakeholders to produce local plans and action strategies for sustainable development; (3) supporting the work of national and international environmental NGOs which address the issue of conservation of nature and landscapes; and (4) promoting pan-European cooperation among landscape planning administrations and experts on establishing networks of conservation areas by identifying and linking up core areas, buffer zones, corridors, rehabilitation areas and considering forest conversation aspects.
In 1983 The European Conference of Ministers responsible for Regional Planning (CEMAT) adopted a European Regional/Spatial Planning Charter. Following on from the European Architectural Heritage Charter, the Soil Charter and the Water Charter promulgated in recent years by the Council of Europe, the European Regional Planning Charter defines, for the first time, the major Europe-wide objectives that should underlie policies for spatial planning, improvement of the quality of life, and the organisation of human activities in the physical space of Europe. The Council of Europe is in the process of developing the 'Guiding Principles for Sustainable Spatial Development of the European continent' which it expects to be adopted by CEMAT in Hanover in September 2000.
Tourism has an important interrelation with the development of regional and spatial planning.