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Land use change

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The land use change most remarkably takes place when urban areas are expanding to rural land. The growth of the urban population is a trend that has been going on for decades causing the growth of urban area. Agricultural land and virgin land are changed into housing, infrastructure and commercial purposes. E.g, 1990 – 2000 growth of urban areas consumed more than 8000 km2 of agriculture, forestry and natural areas. The growth of urban population, however is not the only explanation; since 1950’s cities have expanded in size 78% but the population has grown only 33%. This phenomenon is called urban sprawl, which can be defined as low density expansion of urban areas into surrounding rural land.

The actors making pressure to change land use are often market actors, land owners and developers. Also government bodies may be causing land use change by introducing big infrastructure projects (which are supra local and even supra regional).

Land use change in EU-countries is managed by spatial planning policy and implemented by land use planning. In EU-level the stipulation on planning falls under the subsidiarity principle. Therefore the member states are free to choose how they manage the land use. However, every EU country has some legislation and planning systems to stipulate land use planning. These planning systems and the spatial planning policies vary in strength in different countries. Planning is typically assigned to local and /or regional governments.

The most important EU requirement which concerns land use planning is the SEA directive (Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment). The directive interprets the environment to be studied in wide sense. The following impacts shall be considered: the likely significant effects on the environment, including on issues such as biodiversity, population, human health, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, cultural heritage including architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the interrelationship between the above factors.

The SEA directive also stipulates about the procedure and includes public participation.

The other form of assessment which also might come into question is the Habitats directive. This is if the land use plan has impact on Natura 2000 area.

In many countries the land use planning legislation or relevant legal act which imposes the SEA requirements on land use planning also include plans impact on urban sprawl or urban form since it is the phenomenon which cause as secondary impact on many of those listed in the SEA directive.

Guiding Question

Does it lead to a change in land use (for example, the divide between rural and urban, or change in type of agriculture)?

Does the implementation of the plan have impact on transport systems

Does the implementation of the plan have impact on energy system or infrastructure

Does the implementation of the plan have impact on regional structure or urban form

Does the implementation of the plan have impact on population and human beings (e.g. health, livelihood or amenity)

Does the implementation of the plan have impact on environment (climate, soil, water etc…)

Does the implementation of the plan have impact on cultural heritage, urban or rural landscape

Does the implementation of the plan have impact on green infrastructure or ecosystem services

Relevant Policies


Web Resources


Publications and applications

Content for this term

Title Type Updated date
Förster, Michael Expert 2014-03-05 09:39
Land use change Impact Area 2014-03-04 13:22
Landscape ecological Analysis and Rules for the Configuration of Habitat Model 2013-11-26 08:29
Mari Jüssi Expert 2014-03-17 12:26
Reidsma, Pytrik Expert 2014-04-08 17:04