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Time to act on the Territorial Agenda

2021-02-22 19:10 by Elisa Vilares and Patrícia Moreira

‘Time to act: for a fair, green and digital recovery’ is the motto of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union during the 1st half of 2021. With the recent adoption of the Territorial Agenda (TA2030) in December 2020 by the Ministers of the EU Member States responsible for Territorial Cohesion, together with the publication of the Portuguese Law establishing the National Spatial Planning Policy Programme (NSPPP) [1] in 2019 this is certainly the ‘time to act’, to implement these two important strategic benchmarks.

Since the first version of the Territorial Agenda in 2007, which coincided with the date of publication of the first version of the NSPPP, Portugal has always sought to ensure articulation and alignment between strategic benchmarks for planning, development and territorial cohesion on European, national and regional scales.

The strategy and territorial models defined in the NSPPP were based on a prospective diagnosis, through which megatrends and critical changes for the next 10 years were identified, as well as 18 spatial planning problems and 5 territorial challenges to be resolved through 15 strategic options. The territorial principles, challenges and strategic options of the NSPPP directly reflect the concept of territorial cohesion and the objectives and priorities of TA2030.

Portugal’s contribution to the TA2030 ‘Green Europe’ objective shall be ensured by implementing measures relating to these NSPPP challenges: 1. managing natural resources sustainably; while the priorities for achieving the ‘JustEurope’ objective shall be ensured by implementing the measures that pertain to the challenges: 2. promoting a polycentric urban system, 3. promoting inclusion and valuing territorial diversity, 4. strengthening internal and external connectivity, and 5. promoting territorial governance.

Another common aspect of the two documents was the debate and involvement of stakeholders surrounding relevant issues. From the evaluation process of the previous NSPPP in 2014 to the public discussion of the NSPP territorial model in 2019, there has been a broad national debate, with meetings and events, in addition to the formal public discussion process. The same was true for the TA2030, whose drafting benefited from extensive European debate over these years.

Both European (TA2030) and national (NSPPP) strategic references require the action and involvement of actors from different levels and sectors, but in terms of implementation of concrete actions, the framework and result are necessarily different: the NSPPP has the force of law and its ‘Agenda for the Territory (Action Programme)’ will be of mandatory implementation through its inclusion in the strategic documents and territorial management instruments of the various sectors and levels of governance. The  TA2030 implementation actions will be on a voluntary basis, flexible and pragmatic, put into practice through ‘pilot actions’ to be developed through partnerships between various Member States, multilevel and sectoral stakeholders. The aim of these pilot actions is to achieve relevant results and lessons for the implementation of the TA2030 priorities, as well as inspire stakeholders from different administrative and sectoral levels in their own action towards a future for all places.

The Agenda for the Territory of the NSPPP defines 5 areas of intervention – natural, social, economic, connectivity and territorial governance – framing 50 policy measures. Among these, we highlight in particular those relating to territorial governance, as they aim to ensure the action and implementation of the strategic options.

The NSPPP Governance Model is designed to address implementation challenges along three key dimensions:

  • Action, which seeks to mobilise the relevant actors for implementing the NSPPP, promoting territorial innovation initiatives and disseminating good practices;
  • Monitoring that ensures the systematic and continuous follow-up of the implementation, with the collaboration of the actors responsible for the various areas of public policy;
  • Evaluation that will analyse the results and effects of the 50 policy measures and the respective implementation conditions, assessing territorial dynamics in relation to policy objectives and national targets, with the participation and involvement of a wide range of actors.

The monitoring of the expected effects of the policy measures and evaluation of the Programme is based on a set of territorial indicators published in the ‘Spatial Planning and Urbanism Observatory’ (page in Portuguese), which provides territorial indicators for the systematic monitoring and evaluation of territorial dynamics, and of the national territorial management system. Within the framework of increasing communication with citizens, real time information on the NSPPP implementation actions will be made available, in order to promote transparency of territorial public policies and encourage citizen participation. As recommended for the TA 2030, the NSPPP should also allow for a period of evaluation of its implementation through the production of the National Report on the State of Territory (NRST) to be presented every two years to the Portuguese Parliament.

Due to the relevance of monitoring the planned actions of the NSPPP, a governance structure called the Intersectoral Forum was created, which mobilises more than 30 public administration entities under the tutelage and coordination of the respective political level, in order: to promote the coordination of decisions with a territorial impact that are relevant to the implementation of the Programme; to increase multi-level cooperation within the scope of the definition of sectoral and regional strategies of territorial management instruments; to boost collaborative action networks and ensure systematic monitoring and evaluation.

The Intersectoral Forum, in addition to supporting the output of the NRST, will work on three specific cross-cutting areas: i) environment, agriculture and forestry; ii) sectors responsible for services of general interest; iii) spatial planning and regional development, also related to the objectives of a Green and Just Europe. The Intersectoral Forum will be a privileged platform for communication and for mobilising national and regional stakeholders towards the objectives and priorities of the TA2030.

Portugal assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2021, committed to putting the 2030 Territorial Agenda in motion at the multiple levels of action and in the various sectoral areas with territorial impact. We believe that this ongoing exercise surrounding the NSPP, involving the creation of structures for governance, implementation, collection of territorial evidence, evaluation and communication, translates into a relevant, integrated and comprehensive effort to put the territorial agenda in motion on a national scale.

[1] The National Spatial Planning Policy Programme (NSPPP), adopted by Act of Parliament no. 99/2019, 5 Sept., is the leading instrument of the Portuguese spatial planning system. It defines objectives and strategic options for territorial development and establishes the organisation model of the national territory. The NSPPP is the reference framework for other territorial programmes and plans and a guiding instrument for strategies with territorial impact.

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