European initiative aids better planning

A European project shows how spatial planning can move forward, explains Julius Ursu.

Ursu: project assists decision-making
Ursu: project assists decision-making

The ESPON-Interstrat project, which is in its second year, has brought a new dimension to spatial planning. The project informs practitioners and policy-makers through the use of comprehensive statistical analysis, interactive mapping and scenario planning.

ESPON-Interstrat stands for the European Spatial Planning Observation Network in Integrated Territorial Development Strategies. It is a two-year transnational cooperation project that involves partners from nine European countries. The initiative is partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

The project's overall aim is to promote and facilitate the use of findings from the ESPON 2013 European research programme in creating and monitoring integrated territorial development strategies.

It also aims to support transnational learning about ESPON's actual and potential contribution to integrated policy-making. As the term "territorial development" is little used in the UK, we have therefore translated the term "integrated territorial development strategies" as "strategic spatial development plans".

In the UK, the project is led by the Royal Town Planning Institute, which also acts as the country's ESPON contact point on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The institute has set out a general strategy to engage UK policy-makers and practitioners in the ESPON 2013 research programme. The role of the contact point is to promote the involvement of UK researchers and policy-makers in ESPON transnational projects, networking and knowledge exchange work, and to maximise the use of ESPON research outputs.

A strategy of engagement underpins the RTPI's involvement in the transnational ESPON-Interstrat project.

The project aims to share its resources through interactive workshops. One successful workshop held this April in Scotland was attended by Scottish planners, UK researchers and project colleagues from three European countries.

Apart from bringing together planning professionals from the UK with those from the rest of Europe, the event assessed the impact of possible mediumand long-term scenarios for economic development, climate change and energy resources on Scotland.

Building on this workshop, the ESPON-Interstrat project is organising a conference for policy-makers and planning professionals in London in September that will examine urban spatial planning in the UK as well as the challenges it will face.

Julius Ursu is project manager at the RTPI and manages the ESPON-Interstrat project. The ESPON-Interstrat team is continuing its efforts to engage with planning professionals to inform strategic policy-making at regional and national levels and in urban and rural areas. If you would like to find out more about the ESPON-Interstrat project, please visit

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