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Soils in spatial planning

Land is a limited resource and needs to be managed carefully to meet the various, sometimes conflicting societal demands on land and soil. These demands arise e.g. from urbanisation, food/biomass production and environmental protection. Inadequate practices in land management and in land use planning are main drivers of land degradation and result in the loss of important soil functions. In urban areas for example, soil sealing leads to reduced evaporation and infiltration of water into the soil. As a consequence, the risk of floods and heat waves in cities increases significantly. In rural areas, fragmented landscapes lead to a loss of habitats for species and to reduced capacities of soils to perform important functions such as water regulation or carbon storage. At the same time, pressures on rural housing, such as in the aftermath of COVID-19, also call for adequate planning to ensure that soil and land management addresses the manifold needs of rural populations. Spatial planning has a considerable role to play when it comes to steering a more balanced and sustainable use of land and ensuring that net land take is reduced, in particular if applying the principles of a “land take hierarchy”[[ See section 3.2.2 of the EU Soil Strategy:]].

Activities under this topic should identify mechanisms and highlight associated benefits that accrue from the increased consideration of soil functions by the spatial planning sector, both in urban and rural environments.

Proposed activities should:

  • Undertake a systematic review and analysis of how soils, their functions and ecosystem services as well as soil threats are considered in the various levels of spatial planning systems in the EU and Associated Countries.
  • Improve the knowledge on potential trade-offs regarding the provision of ecosystem services in the context of further expanding urban, peri-urban and rural areas.
  • Identify good planning practices that integrate soils and their ecosystem services into spatial planning and show the impact of these practices on actual land use in urban and rural areas such as on: land take, the re-use of land, restoration, de-sealing and the support to soil functions. In addition to examples from Member States and Associated Countries, good experiences from Third Countries could be highlighted as well. Due attention shall be given to examples promoting soil functions and reducing soil sealing through nature-based solutions.
  • Work together with public authorities to develop strategies for zero net land take by 2050 and provide practical recommendations for a better integration of soils into existing spatial planning practices, taking into account synergies with the management of other resources such as water. Activities should identify the main bottlenecks for the adoption of planning systems, which are based on a more integrated, sustainable, and resource efficient use of land.
  • Provide opportunities for training and skill development of planners as well as for the exchange of experiences (e.g. events, information tools) between the various actors involved in (participatory) planning processes and land use decisions at various levels.
  • Improve the tools as well as the data and information basis (including maps) available to spatial planners and decision-makers regarding soil functions and ecosystem services.

The selected project(s) should liaise with the Joint Research Centre to make sure that relevant data, maps and information can potentially be used and displayed by the European Soil Observatory.

As relevant, activities should seek to link up with the European Bauhaus and contribute to its objectives and initiatives.