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:

regional-seas

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.

 

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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

Soft spaces across the Fehmarnbelt: Territorial Re-shaping and Cross-border Region-building

The following abstract was submitted to the Regional Studies Association European Conference: Shape and be Shaped: The Future Dynamics of Regional Development, Tampere, Finland, May 2013:

Soft spaces across the Fehmarnbelt: Territorial Re-shaping and Cross-border Region-building 

This paper examines the role of soft and hard spaces in processes of region-building across the Fehmarn Belt between northern Germany and Denmark. Recent contributions to the spatial planning and new regionalism literatures highlight the role of non-statutory, soft spatialities and unusual geographies in processes of sub-national and transnational regionalisation in Europe. Indeed, the recent promotion of transnational regional spaces in Europe may be interpreted in terms of the emergence of a qualitatively distinct aspirational territoriality based on explicitly European normative objectives and policy aspirations. Territorialist spatial imaginaries, nevertheless, continue to inform the politics underlying processes of soft space strategy-making and governance at multiple scales, potentially undermining their capacity to break of existing state-centric, ‘container space’ metageographies. From a critical perspective, however, transnational soft spaces raise significant accountability and legitimacy issues and highlight the need to reconsider contemporary models of democratic governance and their application in post-national contexts where the traditional, spatial congruence of state, society and economy no longer holds.

According to its promoters, the Fehmarnbelt fixed link, scheduled to be operational from 2021, will provide a critical impulse for cross-border regional development with potential game-changing significance for the economic geography of northern Europe. This expectation and positive interpretation is, however, not shared by all interested parties and critical uncertainties and value judgements regarding environmental costs and the balance between local, regional and European costs and benefits make any objective economic evaluation difficult. At the local level negative impacts are anticipated as other trade and passenger routes become less competitive and potentially cease operation. There are also serious environmental concerns relating to the ecology of the Fehmarnbelt (an important meeting point between the Baltic and North Seas) and the impacts of the proposed transport connections in Northern Germany. Within this context, cross-border cooperation initiatives involving political, administrative and business actors in various constellations are concerned with the development of the ‘mental bridges’ required for the formation of a new cross-border region.

This meta-regional cooperation space, stretching from Hamburg to Copenhagen and Öresund is characterised by a plurality of soft spatial concepts at multiple scales and with variable boundaries, constructed through elements of territorial, scalar, network and place-based geographies. Drawing on the analysis of qualitative interview data and policy documentation, the paper will examine the soft spaces of cross-border cooperation, as one element of a complex spatial governance landscape where territorial and relational, hard and soft forms of space interact in the socio-political construction of the cross-border region at multiple scales. The paper will furthermore critically examine the (post)politics of this transnational regional-building process, and in particular, the pervasive influence of dominant neoliberal discourses of international competitiveness.

The paper is co-authored with Marta Jacuniak-Suda, Frank Othengrafen and Jörg Knieling (all HafenCity University Hamburg) and draws on case study research conducted under the Soft Spaces, Spatial Planning and Territorial Management in Europe research project. It will hopefully be presented under Gateway G: Territorial Politics and Policy, chaired by Gordon Macleod and John Harrison.

Creating a Space for Cooperation: Soft spaces, spatial planning and territorial cooperation on the Island of Ireland

The following abstract was submitted yesterday to the AESOP/ACSP Conference at University College Dublin, which will take place in July:

Creating a Space for Cooperation: Soft spaces, spatial planning and territorial cooperation on the Island of Ireland

Cross-border and multi-jurisdictional institutional contexts present particular challenges for spatial planning and add to the complexity of spatial planning tasks (see Weith 2012). Given the constraints of working beyond the territorial boundaries of a nation-state, processes of spatial planning in transnational contexts often work with soft instruments and a tentative, politically sensitive approach to the representation of cross-border spaces in policy documents (Faludi 2010). This paper demonstrates that spatial strategy-making can, however, play a key role in the process of shaping and reshaping the spatial imaginaries underlying public-policy and thus the framing of government responses to the challenges and opportunities of cross-border cooperation.

 This paper examines the role of soft spaces of cross-border cooperation and spatial planning in evolving processes of spatial governance on and for the island of Ireland.  The concept of soft spaces refers to non-statutory spatialities. They are specific social constructions of space which lie outside the political-administrative boundaries and internal territorial divisions of the nation-state (Allmendinger & Haughton 2010). Processes of strategic spatial planning, working through soft spaces at multiple scales have played a significant role in the renegotiation of the spatial relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the period of relative political stability since the cessation of armed conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1990s (Murray 2004). Drawing on the analysis of qualitative interview data and policy documentation, the paper will examine the role of spatial planning in reconfiguring territorial spatial imaginaries and developing a new policy vocabulary of functional and relational geographies. The paper also highlights the complexity of the spatial governance arrangements in this cross-border context and reflects on the implications of a continued dominance of territorialism among local scale actors (see also Walsh 2012).

The paper will hopefully be presented under Track 10: International Planning, Cross-border and Inter-regional Cooperation, chaired by Andreas Faludi (Delft) and Neema Kudva (Cornell).

The paper draws on case study research conducted under the Soft Spaces, Spatial Planning and Territorial Management in Europe research project, led by Joerg Knieling and Frank Othengrafen at HCU Hamburg. It also, however, builds on previous work conceptual and applied research work conducted at UCD, NIRSA and for ICLRD.

Overlapping ‘Policy Territories’ from the Perspective of Zealand Region in Denmark

The recently published final report of the ESPON RISE (Region Integrated Strategies in Europe) provides a toolkit and policy recommendations for the preparation of integrated regional development strategies. The project included case studies from four European regions: the Randstad (NL), West Midlands (UK), Västerbotten (SE), and Zealand (DK). Indeed as a Priority 2: Targeted Analysis Project the initial concept came from policy-makers within each of these regions.  Interestingly, the report refers to the concept of extended policy territories which cover regional spaces which extend beyond the boundaries of administrative regions. These are illustrated from the perspective of Zealand Region (below) where  overlapping policy territories at multiple scales are identified.

RISE_RISE_Zealand_policy_territories

(source: ESPON RISE Final Region, p. 43)

This concept of policy territories as employed here, corresponds to what we refer to as soft spaces in the current research project ‘Soft Spaces, Spatial Planning and Territorial Management in Europe’ led by HafenCity University Hamburg  (see for also recent conference papers here).  Soft spaces can provide new innovative opportunities for regional development and thinking ‘outside the box’, but in some cases also raise issues of democratic legitimacy and accountability.