With on average 117.5 people living on each of the EU's 3 million square kilometres, it is easy to see why land use planning and management is such an important environmental issue for the Union. The way we use our land space can have major impacts on environmental conditions. These can be direct, such as the destruction of natural habitats and landscapes, or indirect, such as increasing the amount of traffic on our roads leading to more congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gases. Land use planning and management decisions are usually made at local or regional level. However, the European Commission has a role to play in ensuring Member States take environmental concerns into account when putting together their land use development plans. The Commission has four major goals in this area:
- To devise methods and environmental tools to analyse the impact of proposed development, the Directive on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for projects and the Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessement (SEA) for plans and programmes are the two main tools used in this task. These make sure significant environmental impacts are identified, assessed and taken into account throughout the decision-making process.
- To improve the information flow between policy-makers and citizens about land use issues. Two Commission initiatives - INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial InfoRmation in Europe) and GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) - will help to make information on the environment more accessible to citizens.
- To develop and implement a European urban environment strategy. Over 80% of the EU's 377 million citizens live in cities and towns. The challenge for policy-makers is to come up with a sustainable and integrated approach to urban development and management that works in harmony with natural systems rather than against them. To assist in meeting this challenge the Community's Sixth Environmental Action Programme calls the Commission to develop a new Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment to help promote a more integrated approach and support action at local level.
- To improve the planning, management and use of Europe's coastal zones - often the most vulnerable area. The EU is working to introduce a coordinated policy for the Union's coastal zone regions. The Commission's 4 year Demonstration programme (1996-2000) has shown that an approach known as Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) offers the best prospects for Europe's coastal zones. The main instrument to promote this approach is the 2002 EU Recommendation that urges Member States to put in place national strategies for ICZM. ICZM promotes an integrated territorial approach, that would also be beneficial for other areas such as mountains, wetlands and other sensitive areas. Besides continued research and project support for coastal zones, the Commission started in 2002 a major Europe-wide project on coastal erosion.