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Impacts of the EU Cohesion Policy on land use


Cohesion Policy may result in increased land take due to direct investments in infrastructure and a higher demand for land. (Photo: B. Houskova, © EU)

In support to the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO), the JRC investigated the potential future territorial and environmental impacts of the Cohesion Policy 2014-2020. For this study, a sample of four European countries - Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland - have been chosen for their representativeness of both old and new Member States. Results are presented in the report ‘Direct and Indirect Land Use Impacts of the EU Cohesion Policy. Assessment with the Land Use Modelling Platform’.

The Cohesion Policy is one of the most important policy instruments of the EU that aims to promote competitiveness, economic growth and job creation, while reducing economic, social and territorial disparities between regions. With EUR 322 billion allocated for the period 2014-2020, it represents approximately one third of the EU budget.

The main goal of the study was to identify trade-offs between investments and land use in the EU’s regions, and provide insights on how potentially detrimental land-use impacts could be minimised. To forecast the territorial impacts of the Cohesion Policy, the JRC took a modelling approach that assumed that the land-use effects of future investments will be similar to those observed in the past. Scientists investigated two main scenarios for future land-use change; one that does not include the Cohesion Policy (the reference scenario), and one that does. These scenarios were simulated using the Land Use Modelling Platform (LUMP), a model developed and run by the JRC which integrates several drivers of land-use change (such as the economy and demography) and policies in different thematic domains.

The comparison of the different scenarios showed that the Cohesion Policy may result in increased land take due to direct investments in infrastructure and a higher demand for land as a result of economic growth. In addition, it was found that expected improvements to the European road network will impact on the location of economic activities and residents, thus influencing land use change patterns. The authors recommend that these effects be offset by putting adequate spatial planning policies in place that encourage more efficient urban land use and investment in green infrastructure (natural areas and environmental features), thus preserving the provision of goods and services by ecosystems.

The study highlighted the fact that compact urban development and investment in urban green infrastructure have positive effects on the environment and air quality, notably regarding the estimated removal rate of nitrogen dioxide. Compact urban development is more sustainable than dispersed development, as it offers significant savings in terms of infrastructure and transport, and reduces the negative environmental impacts associated with built-up areas and fuel consumption.


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