Planning Beyond Borders on the Island of Ireland

A new Briefing Paper with John Driscoll and Caroline Creamer for the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) explores the application of the concept of ‘functional territories’ in strategic spatial planning on the island of Ireland. The policy concept of functional territories build on recent academic research work on soft spaces and addresses the potential for spatial planning to work across local, regional and/or national boundaries to engage with the functional spaces in between. The paper is particularly timely given the current preparation of a National Planning Framework for the Republic of Ireland, where functional approaches may come to the fore.

ireland_npf_roadmap

Source: Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (2015) Towards a National Planning Framework

 

 

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Cities and Regions in Cross-Border Cooperation: Competing or Complementary Dynamics?

On 17th May, I convened and chaired a session on cities and regions in cross-border cooperation at the Border Regions in Transition (BRIT) annual conference. The conference took place in Hamburg (Germany) and (Sonderborg) two hundred kilometres to the North and across the border in Denmark. The conference was jointly hosted by the University of Southern Denmark (Centre for Border Region Studies), HafenCity University Hamburg and University of Hamburg. The theme of the conference: Cities, States and Borders: from the Local to the Border placed emphasis on the evolving roles of cities in relation to nation-states and their territorial borders in the context of economic globalisation and securitisation.

Against this background, the session on cities and regions in cross-border cooperation sought to explicitly address the dynamics of cross-border regionalism and city-regionalism through critical reflection on empirical case studies located across Europe. It is evident that European cities and regions can and do benefit through cooperation across nation-state borders and the realisation of the development potentials of cross-border functional regions. The well-known cases of Öresund, Basel Metropolitan Area, Lille, Luxembourg and Geneva demonstrate clearly that territorial borders need not present insurmountable obstacles to metropolitan regional development (Sohn et al. 2009, Hansen 2013, Fricke 2015). In cross-border metropolitan regions, governance capacity is matched by functional integration and a comparatively high density of cross-border economic, social and cultural relations. Cross-border contexts characterised by asymmetrical spatial development structures face more significant challenges in the establishment of mutually beneficial cooperation initiatives (Calzada 2015). Indeed, as cross-border cooperation in Europe matures, it is increasingly apparent that cities and regions tend to follow distinct strategies and as a consequence multiple partnership initiatives often emerge within the context of larger cross-border regions. As connectivity between cities and metropolitan regions increases, neighbouring rural hinterland regions may face a relative loss of connectivity and become further marginalised. Relational processes of metropolitanisation and peripheralisation are shaped by the spatially selective opening of borders and the associated construction of cross-border corridors and gateways.

May own paper within this session concerned the emerging Fehmarnbelt region at the border between northern Germany and southern Denmark and the role of the cities of Hamburg and Copenhagen and their respective metropolitan regions in this context.

Beyond Geography Matters: Paper presented at the German Congress for Geography

Three weeks ago (October 4th), I presented a paper at the German Congress for Geography, Humboldt University Berlin. The paper, entitled Beyond Geography Matters: Negotiating Territoriality and Functionality in Theory and Practice was co-authored with Annegret Repp of the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research in Müncheberg and HafenCity university Hamburg.

The paper sought to critically examine the actual and potential governance capacity of European spatial planning with in light of the emergence of increasingly spatial approaches to governance within the environmental policy field. How do environmental governance actors negotiate territorial and functional spaces in practice? How can the concepts of soft spaces, spatial fit and variable geometry contribute to an analytical understanding of emerging new spaces of environmental governance? Can governance actors move beyond state-centric metageographies to engage with cross-boundary functional spaces?

The abstract is reproduced here:

The multi-level and multi-sectoral governance context of the European Union presents particular challenges of integration across spatial scales, territories and policy sectors. Indeed, a number of studies have highlighted the potential for EU operational programmes to lead to unintended and contradictory outcomes due to problems of coordination and misalignment at the levels of both policy formulation and implementation. The integration of strategic spatial and environmental objectives into sectoral policies remains a key challenge for governance in Europe, arguably requiring changes in institutional structures, governance cultures and operational paradigms at all spatial scales. At the same time it is possible to identify a renewed focus on the spatiality of governance as actors experiment with news of working with functional spaces, crossing established territorial boundaries. In this context, space has become a focus for and means towards cross-sectoral policy integration. River basin management under the EU Water Framework Directive, protected areas under the Habitats Directive and marine spatial planning each represent prominent examples of the emergence of explicitly spatial perspectives under EU environmental directives each of which have also generated critical discussion in the academic literature. Paradoxically, the integrative potential of spatial perspectives in environmental policy has begun to be recognised at the same as academic and policy debate on integrated and strategic forms of European spatial planning have lost momentum and become displaced by less ambitious concepts and discourses of territorial cohesion and territorial governance. We argue that European spatial policy in its current form fails to move beyond its claim that geography matters, to constructively contribute to the question of how sectoral policy (including environmental policy) should address the seemingly elusive spatial dimension. Indeed there has been very limited engagement with academic and policy debates on territorial cohesion and territorial governance in the environmental management literature and similarly limited attention paid to the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion. In the German context, experimental governance approaches such as sustainable land management and urban-rural energy regions nevertheless indicate the potential for integrated spatial-environmental approaches.

Specifically, the paper compares and contrasts the analytical perspectives of spatial fit and soft spaces, both of which move some of the way towards explaining the ways in which governance actors work with multiple socially constructed spatialities. With their separate origins in the environmental management and spatial planning literatures respectively these concepts have developed in isolation from each other and have not previously been brought into dialogue.

Soft Spaces in Europe: Re-negotiating governance, boundaries and borders published in Routledge Regions and Cities Series

The book: Soft Spaces in Europe: Re-negotiating governance, boundaries and borders has been published this summer. It is edited by Phil Allmendinger (Cambridge), Graham Haughton (Manchester), Jörg Knieling (Hamburg) and Frank Othengrafen (Hannover).

Soft Spaces Book Cover

Through five metropolitan  and three cross-border case studies, edited volume greatly contributes to a comparative understanding of soft spaces as an emerging element of the contemporary governance landscape in northwest Europe. The author of this blog (Cormac Walsh) was responsible for the case studies of the island of Ireland and Fehmarn Belt region (Chapters 7 & 9) and contributed to the study of the Hamburg metropolitan region (Chapter 3). Previous versions of the chapters were presented at international conferences in Tampere, Finland (Fehmarn Belt) and Dublin, (island of Ireland).

Here is the official blurb from the Routledge website:

The past thirty years have seen a proliferation of new forms of territorial governance that have come to co-exist with, and complement, formal territorial spaces of government. These governance experiments have resulted in the creation of soft spaces, new geographies with blurred boundaries that eschew existing political-territorial boundaries of elected tiers of government. The emergence of new, non-statutory or informal spaces can be found at multiple levels across Europe, in a variety of circumstances, and with diverse aims and rationales.

This book moves beyond theory to examine the practice of soft spaces. It employs an empirical approach to better understand the various practices and rationalities of soft spaces and how they manifest themselves in different planning contexts. By looking at the effects of new forms of spatial governance and the role of spatial planning in North-western Europe, this book analyses discursive changes in planning policies in selected metropolitan areas and cross-border regions. The result is an exploration of how these processes influence the emergence of soft spaces, governance arrangements and the role of statutory planning in different contexts. This book provides a deeper understanding of space and place, territorial governance and network governance.

Spatial Visions as Soft Institutions – the case of the Atlantic Gateway in North West England

Contributed by Philip O’ Brien, PhD researcher in urban planning at the Department of Civic Design, University of Liverpool

 

‘Soft spaces’ of planning and governance have been associated with the tendency towards non-statutory aspirational territories that are defined according to normative European policy aims, while the concept was originally identified in the context of a large scale state regeneration strategy.

Distinct from both of these types, the Atlantic Gateway is a soft space constructed around the investment strategy of the Peel Group, a privately owned property company with extensive landholdings in the north west of England.  While briefly adopted as a state-led strategy, it is now once more a private sector-led initiative, with a board appointed from across the public and private sectors.

The Atlantic Gateway presents a very different example of soft space to those explored in the literature, both in terms of its ownership and its aim, which is singularly to stimulate investment and growth.  While state-led soft space strategies such as the Thames Gateway and the Hamburg Metropolitan Region are closely intertwined with the ‘hard’ spaces of government in the region, the Atlantic Gateway instead operates by lobbying central government on major infrastructure investments such as high speed rail and port facilities, while attempting to informally coordinate the activities of city-region economic development partnerships around the soft space of the Atlantic Gateway.  The differentiated array of sub-national governance structures that is seen to have flourished as a result of regulatory experimentation by neoliberal governments over the course of the last three decades is complemented by the Atlantic Gateway, which through private sector activity is able to bring together state investment at a scale not addressed in an integrated way by the state.

Altlantic Gateway

 

The Atlantic Gateway: ‘overlapping connected economic geographies’ (Source: The Atlantic Gateway, 2010).

While the Atlantic Gateway presents itself as a new and innovative space that usurps formal administrative boundaries in the same way as the economic processes it seeks to direct, it is in fact based on the Mersey Belt, a regional spatial vision of longstanding.  Yet the same spatial vision has been used as the background for widely differing planning and governance strategies, reflecting shifts in attitudes to spatial development.  While the 1974 regional strategic plan uses the Mersey Belt to represent the existing urban core of the region into which future growth should be directed in order to prevent further urban decline and dereliction, the Atlantic Gateway adopts the infrastructural assets and skilled labour markets of the same space in order to position the Mersey Belt within the discourse of internationally mobile capital and labour.

Thus the spatial vision of the Mersey Belt functions as a soft institution, highly durable in the planning and governance strategies of the region yet equally malleable to the ends of each given strategy.  Two possible insights may be drawn from this.  First, given the increasingly prominent role of spatial visions in planning and governance, this malleability may prove telling, as politically diverse strategies are able to utilise widely accepted spatial visions in order to gain traction.  Second, the purposes of soft spaces might be well served by the co-option of existing spatial visions for the same reason.

 

Philip O’ Brien, University of Liverpool, contact: Philip.Obrien[at]liverpool.ac.uk