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.


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



Spatial Planning Unbounded: Transboundary Spaces of Environmental Governance

On 19th September I will present a paper at a AESOP Symposium on Transboundary Spaces, Policy Diffusion and Planning Cultures, hosted by the Technical University of Kaiserslautern.

My paper will focus on transboundary spaces of environmental governance and the potential application of spatial planning approaches within this field. I deliberately seek to challenge and provoke spatial planning researchers to think outside the box of the traditional spatial planning field to engage with the emergence of transboundary spaces within the environmental governance field. In this sense, a double unbounding of spatial planning is called for: moving beyond nation-state boundaries, and moving beyond the traditional domain of the planning profession  – urban and regional development. The paper provides an explicit link between my ongoing research interest in strategic spatial planning and soft spaces and my more recent engagement with environmental governance at the Wadden Sea coast. In part the paper draws on a previous conference paper presented at the German Geographers’ Conference in Berlin in September 2015.

The abstract of my paper is reproduced below:


European spatial planning, from the European Spatial Development Perspective (1999) to the Territorial Agenda of the European Union 2020 (2011) constitutes a statement of high-level commitment to the importance of place-based and spatially-sensitive approaches to governance within the European Union. In recent years, however, it appears that the distinctive spatial dimension at the core of territorial cohesion and governance has become increasingly elusive (see Stead 2014). Considerations of spatiality continue to be marginal within mainstream academic debates on multi-level governance and European integration.

At the same time, spatial approaches are coming to the fore in European environmental governance, accompanied by the emergence of transboundary environmental spaces at multiple spatial scales. Prominent examples of the recent spatialisation of EU environmental governance include the deployment of international river basin districts under the Water Framework Directive, biogeographic regions under the Habitats Directive and the adoption of eco-system based approaches to marine spatial planning. Transboundary environmental spaces, however, have a longer history in Europe. International commissions for the protection of the Rhine and Lake Constance date from the 1950s. In practice transboundary environmental spaces constitute complex multiscalar institutional arenas involving the negotiation of territorial and functional, soft and hard constructions of space (cf. Walsh et al 2015). Their boundaries may be understood as the product of political negotiation and the socio-spatial construction of environmental problems at particular scales.

This paper explores the construction of transboundary environmental spaces and their implications for spatial planning and territorial cohesion through a case study of the trilateral Wadden Sea cooperation, an intergovernmental cooperation space, extending from Den Helder in the Netherlands to Esbjerg in Denmark and incorporating the full North Sea coast of Germany. The case study focuses, specifically, on the challenges of negotiating across distinct governance cultures and national framings of society-environment relations and the potential role of processes of spatial strategy-making in the transboundary coordination of spatial development objectives within the Wadden Sea region.

The paper is thus concerned with the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion and the application of strategic approaches to spatial planning and governance within the environmental policy field (EEA 2012). Placing transboundary spaces of environmental governance within the context of a territorial cohesion agenda constitutes a challenge to the mainstream narrative of territorial development and cohesion with its focus on the economic growth and economic competitiveness. The paper calls for a return to the cross-sectoral policy integration ambitions at the root of European spatial planning and a broadening of critical analytical focus within spatial planning to scholarship to adequately respond to the emergence of transboundary governance spaces within the environmental policy field.

Keywords: transboundary, soft spaces, environmental dimension, spatial planning, Wadden Sea.


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.