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Sustainable Spatial Planning – Perspectives and Opportunities

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Đorđe Milić
Deputy Director of the Serbian National Agency for Spatial Planning and a member of the Spatial Planning Synthesis Team

Đorđe Milić


Basic principles of spatial planning in Serbia, regulated by relevant laws, are included in the document entitled “Guiding Principles for Sustainable Spatial Development of the European Continent” (12th CEMAT[1] held in 2000). Besides the aforementioned principles, the Ljubljana Declaration on the territorial dimension of sustainable development (adopted at the 13th CEMAT) and the EU’s territorial agenda towards a more competitive and sustainable Europe of diverse regions (2007) among many others, lay a suitable groundwork for Serbia to define its sustainable spatial development.


These principles are envisaged in the existing Spatial Plan of the Republic of Serbia, among other planning documents. However, all this remains insufficient to instigate a sustainable spatial development.


The biggest issue lies in the inefficient implementation of plans, resulting in a somewhat uncontrolled spatial development. Whilst plans help in reserving space in the long run, they still lack proper support from the legislative, institutional and fiscal apparatus to ensure a consistent implementation of planned solutions. This effectively makes them appear more declarative than normative, with the key problem still being both the vertical and horizontal coordination of actors. The end result is demeaning, placing Serbia at the very bottom of the list of the world’s countries in terms of their license issuing efficiency.


The unplanned use of space, that is to say the irrational and inefficient use of natural and infrastructure resources, seriously undermines efforts to lay the groundwork for sustainable spatial planning. Space is a limited resource and as such requires careful planning, arrangement, use and protection. Basic indicators of spatial planning include carefully balanced use of land by categories, the level of urbanization, indicators pertaining to population (vital statistics, activities, structure) the economy, investments, the state of infrastructure and environment, etc. All these point to a necessity for an exigent change of the existing planning practices.


The trend of expanding urban development land at the expense of agricultural land poses a serious long-term threat. Similarly, a constant demographic decline impedes attempts to instigate sustainable growth.


Addressing the issue of long term inefficiency, especially in terms of crafting a major infrastructure system, requires immediate action. Its roots lie within many years of isolation and lack of appropriate cooperation with the rest of the region’s states. The key question remains: What are the perspectives of spatial planning in Serbia and how to make a qualitative leap that would help spur more efficient cooperation in the region?


Incentivizing sustainable spatial development is achievable by maintaining an active role of Serbia in the Western Balkans. Furthermore, it will depend on strengthening capacities of the region’s countries and their effectiveness in implementing a set of spatial development principles, in line with EU standards. This includes:

1)      Sustainability as a basic principle of spatial planning;

2)      Efficient implementation of policies and strategies for sustainable spatial development while maintaining an active role of the public in the decision making process;

3)      Development of horizontal and vertical coordination, subsidiarity and public-private partnership;

4)      Putting territorial benefits to use by sustainably managing natural and generated resources;

5)      Territorial cohesion through more balanced socio-economic regional development;

6)      Strengthening competitiveness and functional specialization through coordinated development of urban areas;

7)      Balanced regional development, through strengthening interregional as well as intraregional links, including cross border, transnational and interregional linkages;

8)      Polycentric spatial development by encouraging reduction of regional disparities and strengthening the functional relationship of cities with their immediate neighborhood;

9)      Advancement of traffic accessibility and availability of information;

10)    Advancement and protection of the environment, natural and cultural heritage as a potential for development, protection of public interest, goods and space.


A first step towards an active implementation of the abovementioned principles could be the establishment of a joint initiative by the Western Balkan states, which could then serve as a blueprint for preparing a document on the Perspective of Spatial Planning in the Region.  The next step could be drafting regional Strategy for Sustainable Spatial Planning, which would help us formulate Joint Spatial Plan of Western Balkan States. Such a process would represent a significant contribution of spatial planning to strengthening regional cooperation. Moreover, it would mean a contemporary reaffirmation of the role of spatial planning itself in the context of sustainable development, the origins of which can be found in the CEMAT Charter of 1983 which treats it as science, an administrative technique and a policy.


Đorđe Milić, Deputy Director of the Serbian National Agency for Spatial Planning and a member of the Spatial Planning Synthesis Team


[1] CEMAT - Council of Europe Conference of Ministers Responsible for Spatial/Regional Planning

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