Spatial planning

The ecosystem approach

The ecosystem approach set of principles that guide us towards more holistic and inclusive management of the natural environment. Its use in land use decisions is advocated in the 2016 Land Use Strategy for Scotland. The Environment Act in Wales, which became law in 2016, includes area-based approach for natural resource management that is intended to provide an improved evidence base for planners in local authorities who are forming Local Plans.

Perspectives and guidance

Ecosystem services and spatial planning

Ecosystem services refers to the array of benefits that the environment provides for people, from flood risk reduction to improvements in mental health. The National Planning Policy Framework for England, which was published by HM Government in March 2012, makes explicit reference to the need for the planning system to protect ecosystem services.  Several Local Plans processes in England have made use of the ecosystem service concept, including the plan for North Devon and Torridge, as well as the plans being made for the South Downs National Park.

  • A short video on ecosystems services and spatial planning has been produced by the Westcountry Rivers Trust.
  • Birmingham City University has led the development of the RUFopoly game to help decision-making for the rural-urban fringe.
  • Dr Katie Medcalf from Environment Systems has provided a presentation how mapping of ecosystem goods and services can be applied to spatial policy objectives to identify trade-offs and benefits. 
  • The Natural Capital Planning Tool is one of several analytical tools aimed at communicating the impacts of a development on ecosystem services. See our Tool Assessor service.

​Environmental assessment

This is a important emerging area of practice in impact assessment. Consideration of ecosystem services can help at all stages of the process of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Strategic Environmental Assessment and Sustainability Appraisal. 

A 'step by step' method developed by the World Resources Institute provides general guidance on how to incorporate ecosystem service thinking into EIA processes around the world. Collingwood Environmental Planning and the Ecosystems Knowledge Network are delivering training events on this topic in 2017, examining specifically applications in the UK.

Natural capital, green infrastructure and spatial planning

Natural capital and green infrastructure refer to the networks of natural and semin-natural features (woodland, public parks, rivers etc) that are the source of environmental benefits enjoyed by people. RTPI has produced a briefing on green infrastructure in the UK. While the natural capital concept is being applied at the local level - including the production of accounts for features such as greenspace - its implications for spatial planning are yet to be explored.