21st Sep 2017

EU 'urban sprawl' harms environment, report warns

By 2020, some member states' population will be up to 90 percent urbanised with EU funding contributing to uncontrolled sprawl in some cities, a new environment study has said

Europeans' increasing demand for land - partly because they live longer and more live alone – is a danger to the EU's environment as well as its social and economic balance, says a report published Friday by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

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Urban sprawl – which is "when the rate of land-use conversion exceeds the rate of population growth" - has in Europe consumed an area three times the size of Luxembourg between 1990-2000 alone. If the trend continues, Europe's urban area will double in just over a century, warns the EEA.

Europe is one of the most urbanised continents with around 75 percent of its population living in urban areas.

By 2020, that percentage will increase to 80 or even 90 percent in some member states, warns the EEA report - "Urban sprawl in Europe – the ignored challenge" - launched on Friday (24 November).

Some of the most sprawled cities in the EU are Udine, Pordenone – both in northern Italy – Dresden, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Dublin, Brussels and Grenoble respectively.

At the other end, Bilbao, Milan, Palermo, Heraklion, Munich and Prague are some of Europe's most compact cities, but sprawling still affect almost all of Europe's cities, the report added.

The EEA says people living in sprawling cities need more energy supply systems and road networks making them travel further and consume more, which increases air pollution and their contribution to climate change. The result is more damage to the natural environment than in compact 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," said Jacqueline McGlade, head of the EEA.

"Agricultural land surrounding cities is often under-priced and this is an issue facilitating sprawl in the face of the above pressures," she said in a statement.

Ms McGlade added that even European Union funds actually contribute to urban sprawl by funding construction projects that do not use land efficiently.

"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," Ms McGlade said.

The Copenhagen-based EEA calls for an EU-wide policy to "co-ordinate and control" urban planning.

"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."

Historical trends, since the mid-1950s, show that European cities have expanded on average by 78 percent, whereas the population has grown by only 33 percent. Planners have built free standing apartment blocks, semi-detached and detached houses instead of continuing the dense quarters of the compact city.

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