Conversational Cuts on the Planning Committee at Regional Association Ruhr (RVR)

Conversational Cuts on the Planning Committee at Regional Association Ruhr (RVR)

Rogério Lopes, 05 Apr, 2018

What does regional planning in the Ruhr region look like? What happens at RVR? And to which extent do political parties in the Ruhr have different opinions on regional cooperation?

As a researcher for the ZUKUR project at Dortmund School of Planning, I was invited by our colleagues from Regional Association Ruhr (RVR) to make an observation of the Planning Committee Meeting (Planungsausschuss) on February, 28th. The observational opportunity is part of the methodological approach for a working package of ZUKUR which focuses on the formal and informal components of the regional governance in the Ruhr region.

Founded in 1920, the RVR has for a long time been responsible for planning purposes and processes on the regional tier. One of the main contributions for the Ruhr region was the implementation of so-called Regional Green Corridors. These are supposed to slow down the urbanization process on the fringes of the bigger cities in the Ruhr and especially contribute to less significant tendencies of urban sprawl. Despite RVR’s experience in coordinating the regional development of green infrastructure as well as of urbanized space, in the late sixties the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia decided that the new established Administrative Districts (Regierungsbezirke) of the state would become responsible for the Regional Plans. For the Ruhr region, this decision ended up being the beginning of a more than 40-year long administrative division into three planning regions (Arnsberg, Münster and Düsseldorf).

In 2009, the RVR was reassigned its original responsibilities and since then, the association has been developing a new regional plan for the whole Ruhr region. The regional plan serves as a basis for the municipal plans (Flächennutzungsplan) in each of the Ruhr municipalities and therefore coordinates the development of urbanization, green spaces and cultural landscapes as well as of climate adaption, among others.  Due to these recent changes, RVR has established new formal as well as some informal committees, round tables and working groups.

From a formal perspective, the decision-making process at RVR is split into two main preliminary decision platforms. While the Planning Committee serves as the first platform to discuss about future planning purposes on the regional level and the Environment Committee (Umweltausschuss) as its counterpart for environmental aspects, the Association Committee (Verbandsausschuss) then prepares the final decision at the Ruhr Parlament (Verbandsversammlung) based on the preliminary decisions in the respective first-step committees.

The Planning Committee Meeting on February 28th took place at ChorForum in Essen between 10am and 12pm and was split into five main items – among these five, only four were open to the public.

  1. Introduction and Welcoming
  2. Announcement of changes in the currently binding regional plans of the Administrative Districts of Münster and Düsseldorf
  3. Legal procedures and preliminary work status of the new regional plan
  4. Discussions on procedures linked to the RVR law

In all, the Planning Committee consists of 80 members who are eligible to vote on specific decisions as well as of eight advisory bodies (see: www.rvr-online.more-rubin1.de/sitzungen_top.php). Members who are entitled to vote are political representatives from the municipalities and rural districts (Landkreise) in the Ruhr region who got elected during the last municipal elections. The advisory members, on the other side, are representatives from different interest groups as well as from the national conservative party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

On February, 28th, only 22 out of the total 88 members attended the 17th Planning Committee Meeting. Moreover, five people from the RVR administration as well as two representatives from Amprion GmbH and two more representatives from other private companies took part.

While the representatives of Amprion GmbH were invited in order to inform the members of the Planning Committee about a new high-voltage line between the North Sea and the Rhine-Ruhr region, Bosch&Partner presented their methodological approach and first results from the mandatory Environmental Report (Umweltbericht). Apart from that, nextbike informed the members of the Committee about current bike-sharing developments and projects in the Ruhr region.

From an observation point of view, it was refreshing to learn that most of the committee members did not actually participate in the discussions. Only a small number of members, especially from the opposing political party Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP), initiated debates on finances and on the status quo of the new regional plan for the Ruhr region. Apart from that, advisory members from environmental and landscape interest groups also contributed to discussions. Anyway, debates were almost only undertaken shortly after representatives from private companies had presented their results and projects. Most items on the agenda were approved or decided without any discussion and dissenting vote.

One of the leading discussions was about the financial contribution of municipalities and rural districts to Metropolrad Ruhr, the regional name for the bike-sharing system of nextbike. While other municipalities, metropolitan regions and regional transportation agencies in Germany co-finance bike-sharing systems from nextbike, the Ruhr region seems to be less attracted to such finance models. Anyway, the municipality of Dortmund and the Dortmund-based company WILO have already started to offer their workers bike rides at no charge. Especially, the FDP, but also representatives from other political parties in the Ruhr region do not support the idea of co-financing nextbike. The FDP even started a general discussion whether the introduced concept in Dortmund should be considered a public subsidy.

It seems that some political representatives do not follow the idea of cooperating on the regional level, especially with private companies. Further research on the regional basis of the political parties and their attitude towards regional cooperation shows that the FDP emphasizes the idea of strengthening the municipal tier. This becomes especially obviously when taking into account that the regional basis of the FDP uses a famous quote from a former FDP chancellor on their website. The quote says that municipalities are the most important component of the German state (see: www.fdp-rvr.de). The SPD, on the other side, presents itself less critical towards regional cooperation by quoting a SPD chairperson from Ruhrparlament. From her point of view, it is an exciting task “to initiate and accompany regional cooperation processes without forgetting about the local identity of the municipalities” (www.rvr-spd.de). Although these two quotes follow different ideas of what regional cooperation could like, it is hard to tell whether they are based on explicitly different opinions on the RVR. Perhaps these differences depend more on the fact that the SPD is in power in the Ruhrparlament, while the FDP voluntary decided to be in the opposition.

In conclusion, the observation of the 17th Planning Committee Meeting as well as the research on the political parties’ websites leave the impression that political parties in the Ruhr still express pork barrel (Kirchturmpolitik) attitudes towards regional cooperation. Anyway, it is hard to tell whether this impression reflects reality or not. In order to be able to fully evaluate the situation, I will have to get to know better the RVR, the regional basis of the political parties as well as the municipal representatives of the cities and rural districts of the Ruhr region. Therefore, I am looking forward to making more observations at RVR and to discussing with regional representatives about further cooperation models in the Ruhr region.