Spatial planning means reconciling interests

When it comes to using the scarce resource of "land", which aspect is to be given priority in Germany: the interests of businesses, the quality of life and work of people living there or an efficient infrastructure? How important are functioning natural and recreation areas to us in this context?

Spatial planning of the Federal Government is based on three tested instruments ("spatial plan", "spatial impact assessment procedure" and "spatial planning cooperation") and weighs all interests against each other in a fair and sustainable manner. It acts as an arbitrator, even in the case of conflicting interests, and involves citizens in the decision-making process at an early stage.


Using land in a sustainable and properly balanced manner

Spatial planning strikes a balance between the many and varied uses and functions of the land of the Federal Republic of Germany as a whole and of its sub-regions. The objective is to harmonize the social and economic claims that are being made on the land with its ecological functions. There are three instruments available to this end:

  • spatial plans of the federal states and the regions,
  • the spatial impact assessment procedure as a preliminary examination of large infrastructure projects and
  • spatial planning cooperation.

Spatial plans

Spatial plans (e.g. federal state development plans or regional plans) are the regional and federal state level equivalent of zoning plans at local authority level. They contain binding requirements for specific subsequent plans and projects with regard to the use of land. For example, in the spatial plan for a region, areas can be designated where wind energy or agriculture is to be given priority. Other uses may be excluded. In return, a use that has been assigned to a certain area can be excluded in the rest of the planning area of the corresponding region. Spatial plans are established together with the technical authorities, associations and interested members of the public.

Spatial impact assessment procedure

Large infrastructure projects, such as wind farms or railway lines, have a considerable impact on their surroundings. During a spatial impact assessment procedure, the federal states authorize an independent body to analyse this impact before the specific planning of the project starts. Alternatives are analysed and weighed against each other. In addition, the general public is involved in the deliberations at an early stage. Discussions on various options for sites and alignments are important in terms of the acceptance of a project. In the framework of a spatial impact assessment procedure, an analysis of whether a project is in line with the objectives of spatial and federal state planning is carried out. The result of this assessment must be considered by the authorizing authority in the subsequent authorization procedure. Carrying out a spatial impact assessment procedure at an early stage creates a win-win situation: As a result of public participation, the neutrality of the spatial planning authority and the transparency of the procedure, the acceptance of the project among the population increases. Moreover, developers already get an idea of the areas where they are likely to face opposition or difficulties in terms of legal or technical issues before the specific project planning has even started. Thus, complex changes of plans can be avoided.

Spatial planning cooperation

The underlying idea is "coordination by cooperation": private sector players, such as companies or associations, and local or regional authorities work together on development strategies and networks for using an area and implement these strategies. The fields where this spatial planning cooperation can be applied are many and varied. Examples include

  • a supraregional local transport network,
  • jointly organised provision of basic services, particularly in rural regions and
  • a strategy to control floods involving two or more federal states.

The spatial planning authorities of the regions and federal states initiate and support such cooperation. Moreover, they can provide financial assistance or organise supporting research activities.

If required, spatial plans on various subjects that transcend federal state boundaries are developed. Source: Fotolia/Rido

Recast of the Federal Regional Planning Act

Develop, structure and safeguard land use

Spatial planning develops, manages and safeguards Germany's territory as a whole as well as its regions by developing spatial plans and coordinating planning processes. It strikes a balance between the many and varied uses and functions of the land.

Mandatory public participation in spatial impact assessment procedures

The Federal Spatial Planning Act is currently being modified. A key aspect in this context is that, in the future, the general public must be involved already during the spatial impact assessment procedure. Moreover, viable project alternatives are to be evaluated. The Act is to be adopted in the summer of 2017.

Spatial plans on flood control that transcend federal states boundaries

The floods in recent years have shown that, in terms of flood control, an approach is required that transcends federal state boundaries. Under the future Federal Spatial Planning Act, the Federal Government will therefore be entitled to draw up spatial plans for flood control. A project group of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is already carrying out an assessment of the current regulations and activities with regard to water management and federal state planning to analyse the potential inherent in and the necessity of complementary plans at federal level.

Legal basis

The legal basis of spatial planning – and thus also of its most important instrument, the spatial plans – are the spatial planning laws of the Federal Government and the federal states. While the Federal Spatial Planning Act is also binding for the federal states, they can still define individual derogations in their federal state laws.

The new concept "Shaping climate change and the transformation of the energy system" enhances spatial planning as a cross-sectoral policy at Federal Government and federal state level. Source: Fotolia/Lucky Dragon

Visions for spatial development in Germany

A political forum for fundamental questions: the Standing Conference of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning (MKRO)

The Standing Conference of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning deals with fundamental questions of spatial and federal state planning. It takes decisions and makes recommendations on important topics. The Ministers, Senators and Heads of the State Chancelleries who are responsible for spatial planning issues at federal state and Federal Government level are equal members of the Conference. The political positions that are discussed in this body are of great political importance.

The work of the Conference is supported by its Standing Committee which consists of the responsible Directors-General of the spatial planning authorities of the Federal Government and the federal states. In addition, there are working committees at division level.

Four strategic visions

In 2016, the Standing Conference of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning adopted four strategic visions with regard to spatial development in Germany: “enhance competitiveness”, “ensure the provision of public services”, “control and sustainably develop land use” as well as “shape climate change and the transformation of the energy system”. The intention is to do justice to the principle of sustainability and spatial cohesion at the same time. The new vision of “shape climate change and the transformation of the energy system”, in particular, strengthens spatial planning as a cross-sectoral policy at Federal Government and federal state level.

Visions provide basic guidance

The visions are primarily aimed at decision-makers at Federal Government and federal state level, but addressees also include regional planning authorities, local authorities and local authority associations. These addressees are to implement the strategies and approaches for action from the visions in practice. However, the visions are also aimed at decision-makers in the fields of transport, environment, energy and economy who are responsible for implementing spatial planning objectives. In addition, they provide guidance to the private sector in terms of the taking of future investment decisions.

European spatial development

The Standing Conference of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning also deals with European issues. European spatial development policy promotes the territorial cohesion, which is an important dimension of European regional policy, and the cooperation with the EU states in terms of spatial planning for land and sea areas.
Two examples: in matters of flood control, cooperation between neighbouring countries on the rivers Elbe, Odra and Rhine is indispensable for Germany. However, as a result of open borders, there is a growing number of people who live in one EU state and work in another. Their needs are taken into consideration in the cross-border cooperation on spatial planning.

With regard to coordination efforts that transcend national borders, two things happen at the level of the European Union:

  • The Member States agree on joint principles of spatial development policy. The basic document for this is the "Territorial Agenda of the EU".
  • The EU funds programmes which promote cooperation between regions (INTERREG programmes).
  • The Alpine Convention is a binding framework convention under international law which aims at protecting the natural habitat of the Alps.
Amongst other things, the spatial plans for the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) comprise specifications for offshore wind generation. Source: Fotolia/Angela Rohde

Spatial plans for the EEZ

At the forefront of maritime spatial planning

The expansion of offshore wind energy is one component of the transformation of the energy system and an important concern of the Federal Government. Offshore wind energy must be aligned with other interests such as shipping, fishing, supply network lines, the extraction of raw materials as well as the protection of species and the environment in the coastal waters (12 nautical mile zone) of the North Sea and of the Baltic Sea as well as of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The EEZ is the maritime area seaward of the coastal waters up to a maximum of 200 nautical miles. Already in 2009, Germany developed spatial plans for the EEZ in the North and Baltic Seas.

"Offshore wind energy" focus in the EEZ spatial plan

By 2030, wind power plants with a capacity of up to 15,000 megawatts are to be installed at sea. In order to achieve this objective, particular attention is paid to areas for wind energy generation when updating the spatial plans of the EEZ.

European Directive on maritime spatial planning

The EU Directive on maritime spatial planning (2014/89/EU) requires all EU states to draw up spatial plans for their marine areas. Moreover, projects must be coordinated between states. This ensures that the spatial plans of neighbouring countries are aligned with each other. Germany already complies with this Directive with its existing spatial plans for the EEZ and for the coastal waters.

Rural regions are entitled to expert support and financial assistance for spatial planning pilot projects. Source: Fotolia/nemesis2207

Spatial planning pilot projects (MORO)

Learn from each other in the spatial planning pilot projects research programme

With the spatial planning pilot projects, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure creates active impetus for the practical trialling and implementation of innovative approaches for action with regard to spatial planning in the regions. In return, current problems and needs of the regions are identified and accounted for in political efforts as well as in legislation. An important aspect in this context is a regular exchange of experience among model regions. This way, new ground-breaking solutions can be documented, published and made available to other regions in order to initiate a comprehensive knowledge transfer process.

Rural regions master demographic change

An example: the number of people living in rural regions is constantly declining. The consequence: schools and buses are no longer used to capacity, shops close and general practitioners do not find successors. It is necessary to find long-term solutions for these problems which do not conflict with the principles of economic efficiency, accessibility and sustainability. This also includes broadband roll-out and digital connectivity in particular in rural areas because, if a region is well-equipped in this regard, this can partially compensate for the closing of public service facilities. Regional energy strategies for mitigating climate change and using renewable energy sources as well as strategies for adapting to the progressing climate change are just as important.

How exactly do spatial planning pilot projects work?

Selected regions that want to adopt new approaches can be provided with expert support und financial assistance for thematically defined research fields in the context of spatial planning model projects. The regions are provided with funds from the research programme of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure so that they can develop and trial solutions that are individually tailored to the needs of their region together with experts.

The Advisory Council on Spatial Development deals with current topics such as digital infrastructure and smart regions. Source: Fotolia/kasto

Advisory Council on Spatial Development

Impetus for current topics

The Advisory Council on Spatial Development advises the Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure on matters of future spatial development. It comprises high-level representatives of academia and practice whose knowledge is helpful for the spatial development of Germany.

Current topics of the Advisory Council

In the 18th parliamentary term, the Council dealt above all with the issues of “digital infrastructure against the background of ensuring the provision of services of general interest”, “Federal Government support for the transformation of the energy system at regional level” as well as “smart regions/smart cities”. In its recommendations, the Council analyses the current impacts on spatial development that result from changes in energy supply and digital infrastructure and their corresponding networks. One focus is on rural regions. The Council has made specific recommendations for action in this context.

Newsletter of the Advisory Council on Spatial Development

The recommendations and opinions of the Council are also made available to interested members of the expert community. A newsletter is to provide a greater number of people interested in spatial development policy with information on the work of the Council. It will draw more attention to the texts of the Council and the highly topical issues it is regularly dealing with. The newsletter can be requested from Division G 30 at ref-g30@bmvi.bund.de.