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Spatial planning and climate change

Ludwig Scharmann

People still remember the state of emergency in parts of Austria, Croatia, Germany and Italy in June 2017  and again in May 2018when torrential rain led to streets, cellars, underground stations and garages being flooded and cars being swept away.

To address the problem of heavy rain events, 10 partners from Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Germany, Hungary and Poland developed and tested innovative methods and instruments for the integrated management of heavy rain risks up to summer 2020.

“there is a need for act ion in spatial planning on the topic of 'risk', spatial planners carry out risk assessment s as part of their work”

The RAINMAN project came just in time to support municipalities and regions in dealing with the dangers of heavy rain and reducing the risk of heavy rain as much as possible' explains Dr Ludwig Scharmann from the Saxon State Ministry for Regional Development.

The project consortium has produced a methodological guide, which should enable responsible people and agencies to select and implement a suitable method for risk analysis or assessment, taking into account the conditions and requirements of any given framework.

Pilot actions to raise awareness and involve stakeholders

To check the feasibility of the jointly developed methods and tools, they were used in the participating partner regions as part of pilot actions. The municipalities of Meissen and Oderwitz in the Free State of Saxony, both of which are characterised by urban and rural features, were involved in the pilot activities.

Both municipalities tested and validated various approaches to risk assessment and prevention; for example, with the help of the catalogue of methods developed in the project, the rural Oderwitz community revised the alarm and operational documents for flood protection.

In another example of stakeholder engagement during an event at Oderwitz, it was emphasised that home owners should make structural provisions to their comes to improve damage susceptibility.

To assess individual risk, owners can use the flood prevention certificate recently introduced in Saxony, which experts use to objectively assess the susceptibility of residential buildings to flooding.

Heavy rain flood risk in spatial planning

The term 'risk' is not found directly in spatial planning law - neither in Germany nor in other European Member States. However, there is a need for action in spatial planning with regard to the topic of 'risk' , because de facto spatial planners frequently carry out risk assessments as part of their work. The need to deal with risk in spatial planning also arises from the principles of preventive flood protection and the identification of critical infrastructures as special assets.

Spatial planning aims to coordinate competing land uses and conflicting objectives and to identify and promote multifunctional use potentials. By integrating goals for heavy rain risk reduction, spatial planning can be a powerful tool for reducing risks locally and even regionally. The implementation of risk reduction measures in spatial planning depends on the specific legal situation in the respective country and region. The RAINMAN Toolbox offers an overview of measures and insights from different perspectives.

“emergency plans are modeled on subsidiarity based civil protection, where local authorities are the first respondents.”

General guidance and recommendations:

integrate water-sensitive urban planning in new developments - an early consideration of flood prevention is worthwhile;

consider  synergies and conflicting objectives - heavy rain risks are only one possible environmental risk;

adapt local and regional planning levels to heavy rain risks as these are the levels particularly affected;

coordinate sectoral strategies into an integrative spatial development strategy and make use of formal and informal instruments for strategic spatial planning;

review spatial planning decisions on a regular basis;

keep planning flexible for changing conditions (e.g. climate change) to reduce the vulnerability of regions and settlements;

establish appropriate cooperation and coordination mechanisms for the implementation of measures;

work towards securing resources and finances to ensure the implementation of set goals.

This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL