The population of Espoo increases by approximately four thousand every year, which is also reflected in the City’s land use planning. The aim of statutory land use planning is to ensure the continued development of the city and create the foundation for a good and functional living environment. The City of Espoo is responsible for the preparation of both the local master plan and local detailed plans.
“The city’s housing planning volume has been increased to approximately one and a half times what it was ten years ago,” says the City of Espoo’s Town Planning Manager Ossi Keränen.
Today, housing in Espoo is heavily concentrated along the railways, as they enable convenient travel within the Helsinki region. One of the over-arching goals in all planning is to improve the efficiency of land use, with the aim of ensuring the sufficient availability of housing in the future as well.
According to Keränen, one of the biggest challenges in planning is reconciling conflicting and opposing interests in a way that still produces good results. The fact is that the City’s different divisions and centres may have very different views on the same planning issues. The objectives of property developers are often very clearly defined: to carry out individual building projects as quickly as possible on given plots. The objective of the City, however, is to ensure that the entire area is developed in a specific manner, taking into account numerous factors over the long-term as well. In other words, the aim is to ensure that individual projects contribute to the overall development of the city.
Although the emphasis in individual projects is often on the technical and economic aspects, there are also environmental restrictions to consider, such as nature conservation or stormwater management. Particularly in single-family house areas, different interest groups may want completely different things, according to Keränen: some may want to make their plots more efficient and thus welcome new plans, while some oppose them vehemently, with the rest falling somewhere in between.
Some of the most important aspects of planning are the legality and openness of the process, the sufficiency of surveys and planning required and the legality and quality of the planning solution. Most of the initial data for planning is received from Espoo’s information system, which can be used to check things such as individual plans, soil data, conservation areas and ancient monuments. The necessary surveys may involve carrying out noise measurements or Siberian flying squirrel surveys, for example. Surveys for Siberian flying squirrels and other protected species must always be conducted first. Commercial building projects also involve carrying out financial surveys. Carrying out the necessary assessments and surveys usually takes from a few weeks up to a couple of months.
“The City takes care of the planning process and steers planning so that the most important issues are taken into account at every step,” says Keränen.
However, companies can also become cooperation partners in the planning process, for example by applying for a revision to a plan for the purpose expanding their operations on a plot that they own. Once the feasibility of the project has been assessed, the company prepares the plans and commissions the necessary assessments and surveys. Entrepreneurs and residents can also participate in the process by following the planning via the Internet or resident events. Both can also issue written opinions on plans and complaints about proposed and approved plans. The drafters of individual plans, office-holders and decision-makers can also be contacted directly. Detailed information on how to influence planning can be requested from drafter.