National land use guidelines are being prepared according to the Land Use and Building Act that came into force in the beginning of the year 2000. The draft has been largely discussed, and a report based on the received statements will be given to the Parliament during spring of 2000. After a discussion on this report, the Council of State will probably decide on the guidelines later this year.

All 19 Finnish regions have enforced regional plans which have been made according to the need for a certain area or function. The area per region covered by regional plans differs significantly from over 85 per cent to 20 per cent. The highest percentages are in heavily urbanized regions and the ones with important nature entities such as Lapland. The lowest percentages are mostly in agricultural regions. The amount of area covered by regional plans in the whole country is 43%

The amount of sanctioned local master plans is 447. The sanctioned master plans are mainly partial plans that are used to protect significant nature areas. In this context one has to remember that during the previous Building Act non-sanctioned master plans, i.e. the ones approved by the municipal council, were used as comprehensive plans to guide development and protection. An approved detailed plan which was made according to the master plan then replaced it and was used to guide building or protection directly. The logic of the new Act is generally the same except that master plans do not have to be submitted for sanctioning by the Ministry of the Environment.

Urban development in Finland is concentrating. Some cities and their regions are becoming centres of new information technology industries. Almost a quarter of the population already lives and works in the Helsinki Metropolitan Region. Certain regional centres even in the northern part of the country, such as Oulu, are developing rapidly. The other side of the coin is that the countryside is losing population. The economical and employment situation in towns with heavy industries is unstable, often depending on decisions made elsewhere.

However, European urban policy aims at a balanced urban network, and Finland has managed quite well in solving these problems. By co-operation between the public and private sector, new uses have been created for old industrial premises, which often belong to the cultural heritage and are located in central parts of towns and cities.

Co-operation between the Ministry of the Environment and other relevant ministries has improved in cases where public needs have to be balanced with private ones. Private sector actors do not often take into account the spatial implications of their rapidly developing businesses. Certain problems are caused

for example because of the trend to build very large retail shopping units outside the urban fabric. This causes negative impact such as degradation of urban centres as well increasing need for private cars. This issue is part of the general problem of urban sprawl.

In spatial planning there is a common understanding that the existing infrastructure should be used more cost-effectively. Particularly in urban planning this means that the emphasis is now on renovation, reuse of the existing building stock as well as infill development. There are difficulties in avoiding too dense building of second-homes or cottages for holiday-use in certain lakeside and seashore regions.

However, even if the Land Use and Building Act provides sufficient legal tools to handle these issues, local planning decisions are democratically made by municipal councils, and the results depend on them. Therefore, decision-makers who often have to make rapid decisions because of economical realities for example, need new awareness and environmental knowledge.

The spirit of the new Act is better integration and sycronization mainly between development planning, nature protection and sustainable transport and traffic modes. This means that all the sectors whose activities have spatial implications have to understand their environmental responsiblity. Progress has already been made. For example, the Ministry of Transport and Communication has prepared its own environmental programme.

From the viewpoint of implementing the new Act, the preparation of national land use planning guidelines is a primary task. The planning system in general is being transformed from a control system into a negotiation process. Authorities and stakeholders have to learn to be in continuous cooperation with each other to solve conflicting land use interests already during the planning process. The aim of the new Act is to provide a flexible and effective legal farmework that guarantees that all stakeholders are involved and environmental aspects taken into account in spatial planning.

The Finnish contribution was prepared by Jussi Rautsi
Ministry of the Environment
Land Use Department
Tel. + 358-9-19919361

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