The glossary

Planning terms are often rooted in the administrative and planning culture of a particular country and cannot be straightforwardly translated.

The English-language glossary presented here is intended to offer a translation and elucidation of central terms in the German planning system to a non-German speaking readership in the interests of facilitating discourse.

Our intention is to ensure as much consistency as possible in the key terms used throughout this platform and the publications of the ARL that can be found here.

The definitions used are based on those found in the national glossary for Germany, which was elaborated in the framework of the BSR INTERREG III B project COMMIN.

Click here to perform a search based on the English term.

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View in Compendium

The term "region" is used in a wide range of contexts. It denotes an area that forms a unit owing to special characteristics. A region is always a middle-sized spatial unit, that is to say part of a larger unit and at the same time the sum of a group of smaller units. Since the beginning of the 1990s, “region” has become a vogue word, and even in the field of spatial planning a number of institutions have come to use it with reference to themselves, e.g., counties, regional associations, administrative districts, the states of the federation at the EU level, and innumerable informal regional cooperation projects. German regional planning is understood as a level of planning situated between the state and municipal levels. The area covered by a regional plan, the planning region, is thus, as defined above, both part of a state and a sum of counties and municipalities. Planning regions are constituted in keeping with spatial planning requirements.

Theoretically they should correspond to the catchment area of a high-order centre (as special characteristic), but in practice they are the territories of the counties affected or of an administrative district (Regierungsbezirk). For reporting purposes, federal spatial planning defines so-called spatial planning regions, which, however, often coincide with those for regional planning. Communities linked by strong commuter traffic form a common labour-market region.

Regional plan, regional spatial structure planRegionalplan, Regionaler Raumordnungsplan

Regional plans or regional spatial structure plans – the terminology differs from state to state in Germany – are overall coordination plans for planning regions (sub-areas within a state). Regional plans are drawn up on the basis of the spatial structure plan for the territory of the given state (state development plan). In preparing such plans, the regional planning authorities thus have the task of giving specific form to the spatial planning goals set for the particular region. As in the spatial structure plan for the entire state, the most important purpose of regional plans is to set concrete spatial planning goals.

In written and graphic form, the regional plan outlines the spatial structure and development to be realised in attaining the goals of comprehensive spatial planning. Principles of spatial planning can also be laid down that supplement and concretise the provisions of the Federal Spatial Planning Act in keeping with the guideline of sustainable spatial development for the given planning area.

Regional planningRegionalplanung

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Regional planning is the task of settling the desired future course of spatial structure and development for sections of a state (regions) by drawing up regional plans. Regional planning is thus spatial planning for subdivisions or regions of states. It gives concrete definition in the region to the spatial structure plan drawn up for the state as a whole, and specifies the regional goals of spatial planning. It therefore constitutes the vital link between the state’s supra-local perspectives for development and the specific local decisions land-use in the context of urban land-use planning. This mediating function requires a difficult balance between overall governmental responsibility and local self-government.

From a legal and substantive point of view, regional planning, being an element of state spatial planning, is a government task. But from an organisational and planning policy perspective, it is a joint task of state government and local self-government.
With the exception of the Saarland and the three city-states, all states in Germany have established autonomous spatial planning – regional planning – for parts of their territory (regions) pursuant to the Federal Spatial Planning Act and their own state spatial planning acts.

Regional planning authorityTräger der Regionalplanung

The organisation of regional planning is laid down by state spatial planning acts. There are two organisational models:
local and state regional planning. In states with local regional planning, municipalities and counties organise themselves in joint planning associations, which vary in name from state to state:

  • “(Regionaler) Planungsverband” (regional) planning association (Bavaria, Saxony, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania),
  • “Regionalverband” regional association (Baden-Württemberg),
  • “Regionale Planungsgemeinschaft ” regional planning community (Brandenburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt),
  • “Regionalrat” regional council (North Rhine-Westphalia),
  • “Regionalversammlung” regional assembly (Hessen).

The structure and composition of these bodies also differ. In states with state-level regional planning (Schleswig-Holstein, Saarland), the state spatial planning authorities, although responsible for regional planning, are required to involve local authorities and associations of local authorities in regional planning by means of a formal procedure. In Lower Saxony, the counties and county-free cities are responsible for regional planning authorities.

In Hessen and North Rhine-Westphalia, the planning regions coincide with administrative districts (Regierungsbezirke), and planning bodies make use of district administrative agencies. The influence local authorities or the state can exert on regional planning depends on the organisational form.

Reserve area/siteVorbehaltsgebiet

Reserve areas are areas where special importance is attached to certain functions or uses of importance for spatial structure in comparison with competing uses. In their specific character, reserve areas reflect the principles of spatial planning; but no final appraisal has yet been undertaken of the substantive benefits their designation anticipates.

Right of pre-emptionVorkaufsrecht

The right of pre-emption is the “right of first refusal” which a local authority is permitted to exercise in respect of a property within its territory. The Federal Building Code distinguishes between general and specific local-authority rights of pre-emption, both of which apply only to the purchase of real property. In both cases, the exercise of the pre-emption right is permitted only when this is in the public interest.

A municipality is permitted to make use of its general pre-emption right in six distinct cases: within the area covered by a binding land-use plan in respect of sites designated for public use; in an area undergoing reallocation; in a formally designated rehabilitation area, and in an urban development zone; within the territory covered by a preservation and redevelopment statute; within areas covered by a preparatory land-use plan, provided the land concerned is not developed, is situated in the outer zone and has been earmarked in the preparatory land-use plan for use as housing land or as a residential area; in respect of sites within the territory covered by a binding land-use plan or in built-up areas which are suitable for predominantly residential development and which have not been developed.

Exercise of the specific pre-emption right must be underpinned by a bye-law (or municipal statute); this is accordingly sometimes referred to as a “statutory preemption right”. The municipality may assert by statute its right of pre-emption in respect of undeveloped land within the area covered by a binding land-use plan; it is also permitted to make use of this right in respect of areas for which urban development measures are being considered, and, in order to safeguard planned urban development, it may designate by statute such sites in respect of which it may wish to exercise its right of preemption. Pre-emption rights are also enshrined in nature-protection law.