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Urban sprawl - Europe’s ignored environmental challenge

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EU policy required to guide effective urban planning.

Continuous and rapid urban sprawl threatens Europe’s environmental, social and economic balance, says a new report released in Copenhagen today by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The report, ‘Urban sprawl in Europe - the ignored challenge’, shows that many environmental problems in Europe are caused by rapidly expanding urban areas. The global economy, cross border transport networks, large scale societal, economic and demographic changes and differences in national planning laws are some of the major drivers of change to the urban environment. EU policy to co-ordinate and control planning is required, the report says.

Urban sprawl occurs when the rate of land-use conversion exceeds the rate of population growth. More than a quarter of the EU territory has now been directly affected by urban land use, according to the report. Europeans are living longer and more of us live alone putting greater demands on living space. We travel further and consume more. Between 1990 and 2000, more than 800 000 hectares of Europe's land was built on. That is an area three times the size of Luxembourg. If this trend continues, our urban area will double in just over a century.

Sprawling cities demand more energy supply, require more transport infrastructure and consume larger amounts of land. This damages the natural environment and increases greenhouse gas emissions. Among the consequences are climate change, increased air and noise pollution. As a result, urban sprawl impacts directly on the quality of life of people living in and around cities.

"Urban sprawl is a reflection of changing lifestyles and consumption patterns rather than an expanding population. Increasing demands from housing, food, transport and tourism all demand land. Agricultural land surrounding cities is often under priced and this is an issue facilitating sprawl in the face of the above pressures", said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA.

"EU Cohesion and Structural Funds, key drivers affecting European societies, are also major causes of sprawl across Europe. The impact of funding is especially relevant as the EU and its Member States flesh out how they plan to spend the next EU budget. New Member States, in particular, will see dramatic changes. They should be provided with policy guidelines to help avoid the environmental pitfalls that a sudden injection of funds can encourage," Professor McGlade said.

The report contains case studies from seven cities across Europe illustrating both good and bad approaches to urban planning over the past 50 years. However, the report stresses that sprawl is not a localised phenomenon and is affecting almost all of Europe’s cities. The report suggests future actions and policies that could tackle the continued spread of sprawl.

Notes to the editor:

Background on the report

This report was prepared by the EEA and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

Report: Urban sprawl – Europe’s ignored environmental challenge

EEA Briefing 4/2006 - Urban sprawl in Europe

About the European Environment Agency (EEA):

The EEA is based in Copenhagen. The Agency aims to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy makers and the public.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100