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Preparation for strategy on urban environment
By means of a European strategy for the urban environment, the Commission hopes to reinforce the contribution of environmental policy to the sustainable development of urban areas, notably by focusing measures around four themes: urban management, transport, construction and urban design.
Communication from the Commission of 11 February 2004 "Towards a thematic strategy on the urban environment" [COM(2004) 60 - Official Journal C 98 of 23.04.2004].
All European cities face similar environmental problems. A European strategy for the urban environment would open the way to systematic and coherent solutions to these problems by virtue of a strong framework to encourage local initiatives based on best practice, leaving the choice of solutions and targets to local decision makers.
The strategy will focus on the urban environment while taking account of related economic and social issues. It will therefore focus on four basic cross-cutting themes: urban management, urban transport, construction and urban design.
Sustainable urban management
The policies applied to urban areas often act in isolation from one another due to the specific nature of the areas they cover (buildings, infrastructure, transport, energy, waste, etc.), and the fact that they are managed by different administrative departments. A stronger framework at European level is therefore necessary to revitalise and generalise the environmental management of Europe's largest towns and cities.
The main aspect of the strategy in this field is that each capital city and every other city and town of over 100 000 inhabitants should adopt an environmental management plan for the urban area as a whole, together with targets related to the key environmental impacts, and should implement an environmental management system to manage this process and deliver these objectives.
Such management plans would make it possible to:
- combine the management of municipal obligations arising from European legislation (directives on air quality and noise);
- strengthen co-operation between different levels of government (local, regional and national) and between different departments within local administrations;
- provide the necessary continuity for a municipality's environment policy between successive administrations;
- place the largest 500 European cities on a more comparable footing with regard to their environmental initiatives and obligations.
Sustainable urban transport
Urban traffic has a significant impact on the environment and on the health of citizens, as well as on the overall quality of life in towns. Motorised traffic is one of the main sources of atmospheric pollutants such as ozone and NO2, and urban traffic accounts for almost 40% of transport-related CO2 emissions. Moreover, two thirds of traffic accidents in the EU in 2000 that led to injuries happened in urban areas. Noise in urban areas is also a serious and growing problem and 80% of it comes from road traffic.
According to the Commission, every capital city and every city and town of over 100 000 inhabitants should develop, adopt, implement and regularly revise a sustainable urban transport plan, with short-, medium- and long-term targets. Other measures would also be put in place, in particular to encourage the purchase of cleaner and more efficient vehicles or promote the use of alternative fuels.
Poor design and construction methods can have a significant effect on the health of a building's occupiers (people in Europe spend almost 90% of their time inside buildings) and on the environment (energy consumption for heating and lighting produces 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions; production of 450 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste per year).
In the framework of a thematic strategy, the Commission plans to develop a common methodology for evaluating the overall sustainability of buildings and the built environment, including life-cycle cost indicators. All the Member States will be encouraged to draw up and implement a national programme for sustainable construction. The Commission will also examine possible ways to address the renovation of smaller buildings, further non-energy-related environmental performance requirements, the environmental labelling of construction materials and the implementation of the thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste.
Sustainable urban design
Urban design refers to the pattern and type of land use within the urban area. The Commission points out certain problems in this connection, including urban sprawl (the expansion of cities into surrounding rural areas, creating areas of low-density housing and increasing transport problems), the large amounts of unused, derelict land and high numbers of empty properties, the location of infrastructure and the need to protect and increase the number of green areas.
In order to achieve sustainable urban design, the future strategy would encourage Member States to:
- ensure that their urban settlement patterns take account of environmental factors;
- promote the reuse of disused and derelict sites, including brownfield land and empty buildings;
- set minimum residential land use densities to encourage higher density use and limit urban sprawl;
- incorporate the consequences of climate change for their cities into the land-use planning process.
A cross-cutting strategy
In parallel to these four priority themes, the Commission proposes a cross-cutting approach involving:
- the integration of urban environment issues at three levels: in the most relevant Community policies (transport, cohesion, health, research and technological development, etc.), in key sectors of Community environment policy (water, air, noise, waste, climate change, nature and biodiversity) and between the different levels of administration (European, national, regional and local);
- the identification of common European indicators to monitor the effects of the thematic strategy and the state of the urban environment;
- support for the mainstreaming of good practice at local level and dissemination of the results.
With this communication, the Commission is launching a wide-ranging consultation of interested parties in order to identify the best measures to take in the framework of a thematic strategy to help European towns and cities improve their environment and to make them healthier and more attractive places to live in.
The urban environment strategy is one of the seven thematic strategies mentioned in the Sixth Environment Action Programme.
For more information on the follow-up to this consultation, go to the Europa page devoted to the urban environment strategy.