Diritto Amministrativo, Pubblico Comunitario

Environmental sustainability necessitates new environmental planning methods for large metropolitan areas

Between now and 2030, the challenge facing large metropolitan areas, also to change the course of the climatic and environmental conditions of the ecosystem, will be that of significantly modifying or supplementing local policies, implementing measures that reduce soil consumption and pollutant emissions, guaranteeing the protection and enhancement of large green areas, introducing effective hydrogeological and environmental reorganisation measures, and investing in modern and efficient sustainable mobility solutions. All of this without halting the development of cities and without ignoring high-quality innovative solutions.

  1. Planning and the need for integrated policies

The European Union has approved numerous procedures and measures that require the introduction of policies or good practices relating to many of the aforementioned themes[1]; however, what is missing is evidence of an overall strategy that underlines how local authorities must go beyond the segmentation of the actions to create a harmony between the various aspects, recognising that unless there are integrated choices that encompass the soil, the water and the air there can be no significant progress as regards the climate and hydrogeological instability.

One could begin with an updating of the Covenant of Mayors[2], launched by the Commission in January 2008.

The Covenant, whose goals are the retrofitting of public and private buildings, clean mobility and encouraging new forms of behaviour, should today be integrated with the request for the introduction of urban redevelopment policies, with the reduction of soil consumption and the limitation, mitigation and offsetting of soil sealing and operative decisions to redevelop and ensure the safety of areas at hydrogeological risk.

The Mayors of big cities must therefore develop integrated plans that go beyond sustainable energy. There is still time before 2030. The Municipalities that have approved the Action Plan (SEAP) can update it, those that haven’t yet approved it or signed up for it may still do so. The same Covenant, on other hand, provides for integration with urban and territorial development, a useful window for using this tool for policies which, as we have said, are more efficient and effective.

  1. Urban regeneration

Territorial and environmental policies must therefore aim at a new urban development model that is less dissipative and more sustainable.

The theme of urban regeneration[3] is a crucial part of this new approach. Regeneration which, on one hand, is “extensive and widespread”, requiring the attention to be focused on places, on their physical and functional dimension, which must strengthen and expand the redevelopment of existing heritage, activating all of the levers of new forms of sustainability, including eco-efficiency, new forms of lighting, heating and air conditioning. On the other, this urban regeneration must be “intensive and concentrated”, closely connected with the major transformation of abandoned areas and those that must be redesigned because of the changing needs of large metropolitan areas (accessible living, greenery, services and work, new infrastructure).

In this context, European policies and directives for renewable energies and greater energy efficiency, as well as associated domestic policies providing support (primarily of a physical nature)[4] for the retrofitting of public and private buildings, are essential elements but once again not enough on their own.

Regeneration, particularly with regard to existing heritage, requires the definition of innovative measures. In fact, it is important to come up with relocation measures (considering, for example, all those businesses set up in areas at high risk of flooding), using joint public and private instruments, which make temporary lodgings available to those that live in or use (such as schools or hospitals) the properties that must be redeveloped and regenerated in terms of both reducing energy consumption and the introduction of renewable energy sources for the production of water and heating. It is also essential to introduce and regulate forms of temporary usage (an increasingly common practice in the most modern European cities) which allow properties or parts of the territory to be used in order to prevent their abandonment and degradation, but also to understand, through people’s responses, which are the best functions to plan and implement (in some cases, due to the size factor, also over time and in stages). We must come up with forms of support that make it possible to put the high number of properties that are no longer usable back into circulation in order to meet social housing requirements or to recover accessible and green areas, particularly for those cities that have abused the territory intensively for many years.

This does not mean not building but rather learning to build in a sustainable way, responding to real needs and restoring the environmental quality and efficiency of the territories.

This may sound like good intentions but in reality the expansion of the metropolitan dimension already enables all big European cities, using the planning tools already provided and those waiting to be introduced, to design and launch projects, also experimental and large-scale in nature, which contain forms of negotiation between the public and private spheres. The latter can develop business, boosting the economy and employment, while the former can have a “positive impact” on the territory in terms of reducing energy consumption and energy savings, and therefore lower emissions, the quality of the environment, green and public spaces, services and, more generally, environmental sustainability. Indeed, regenerating means innovating, developing new constructions to replace those that are obsolete and no longer usable, but also recovering land in the case where a decision has been made to densify a particular area, reducing the occupation of the soil and freeing up the part that is left over[5]. It is in this context that we must consider the relationship between the city and the countryside and the role that the latter can play as an integral part of the city’s identity and as a new development of a more modern farming approach, with a more urban connotation but equal financial capacity. This is also another form of development and therefore of wealth and work, but again with renewed focus on the territory.

2. Decontamination of contaminated sites an integral part of urban regeneration

The decontamination of contaminated sites is a relevant theme in the area of regeneration. The cost of the measures and the complexity of the procedures make recovery processes particularly slow. Alternatively, these measures only become possible with the implementation of high-impact and high-density projects, often unconnected with the planning principles of the territories and their real growth requirements.

Over the years, the principle of responsibility that stems from the concept of “the polluter should pay”[6], a key and immutable principle, has not, however, been adapted to specific cases or the evolution of the local economic situation. Over time there has been no indication of the possible absence of accounting and administrative responsibility for direct measures by the local authorities, also with the exclusive goal of restoring the public accessibility of the territory, using European and national funds; no incentives or guarantees for non-responsible parties that want to carry out the decontamination have ever been established. The latter only now take action if the cost of the decontamination is recouped through the urban development or construction planned for the area.  Things would be different if forms of deduction were envisaged with obligations to make parts of the decontaminated land accessible or with the introduction of forms of territorial compensation.

The impact of maintaining vast areas of contaminated land for many years must be evaluated in terms of the cost for the territory and the quality of the environment and health. It must be decided whether a contaminated site should be considered as already-consumed soil and if part of this soil must in any case be restored to its original state.

In this area Europe has not moved beyond a 2006 proposal[7]; in fact, the protection of soil has never been associated with a single set of principles or regulations. The absence of uniform and common references between the various Member States negatively impacts on the equality of conditions among operators, limiting free competition.



[1] These numerous procedures include: the 2030 Framework for climate and energy adopted by the EU leaders in October 2014; Directive 2012/27/EU of the European Parliament and the European Council of 25 October 2012 on energy efficiency, which amends directives 2009/125/EC and 2010/30/EU and revokes directives 2004/8/EC and 2006/32/EC; the European Commission initiative Covenant of Mayors Committed to local sustainable energy of 29 January 2008; Directive 2007/60/EC relating to the assessment and management of flood risks; Guidelines on best practice to limit, mitigate or compensate soil sealing, European Commission guidelines 2012.

[2] See footnote no. 1

[3] There is no single definition of “urban regeneration”. In any case, regeneration activities are alluded to in European regulations on the promotion of energy efficiency.

[4] The most recent of these, in Italy, include the 2016 Stability Law which confirmed and partially extended the tax allowances for the energy redevelopment of buildings established by the 2015 Stability Law (Law no. 190 of 23 December 2014).

[5] One interesting example of this method of collaboration between the public and private spheres took place in the Municipality of Milan between 2012 and 2014 and led to the demolition of a large building that was never completed and the recovery of a huge area of land to be used as farming and parkland. A project deemed worthy of attention as part of the “2012-2013 Landscape Award of the Council of Europe” and which won the Legambiente “sterminata bellezza 2014” (“boundless beauty 2014”) award in Italy.

[6] Article 191, paragraph 2, subsection 1 of the TFEU states as follows: “Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay”.

[7] Commission communication of 22 September 2006: “Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection” COM (2006) 231, Directive proposal of the European Parliament and Council that defines a framework for soil protection and amends directive 2004/35/EC.

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