The Napoleonic family is the label that best describes the French planning system (Newman and Thornley, 1996, pp. 27-76). The French planning system is largely shaped by a national codified law (Code de l'Urbanisme et l'Habitat). Historically, its roots go back to the French Revolution, and it could until recently have been characterized as very centralistic. At present there are four levels of government involved in physical planning: state, region (22 on the continent and 4 overseas), département (100) and commune (36 666). The state produces national laws and guidelines. The national ministry responsible for local and regional planning has local offices in the larger metropolitan areas. The local representatives (préfets) of the national government exercise a strong influence over local authorities. At the intercommunal level a planning framework may be provided by a cooperative master directive plan (SDAU). The master directive plan defines the general orientation of planning objectives applicable to a defined number of communes, which can be considerable. The SDAU of Lyon, for example, consists of 71 communes (ISOCARP, 1992, pp. 71-80).
Both the state and the region have specific interests in economic and physical planning. The planning objectives are periodically formulated in national plans. Recently, the 22 regions were also allowed to make their own development plans, but until now few have done so. The départements do not have many specific instruments for physical planning. They do have a considerable range of functions, which indirectly influence urban development and planning decisions.
Essentially, the French planning system is a two-tier system based on the loi d'orientation foncière of 1967. Decentralization and recentralization administrative developments are also important in France. Recently, for example, administrative powers were shifted to the office of the mayor, which has given these officials a prominent position with respect to special projects such as railway station area redevelopment. Although strategic plans can be initiated by a commune, they must be agreed upon by a majority of communes in the region. Because of the fragmented structure of the communes, strategic plans are more often than not a joint responsibility of the commune and the state, wherein the state representative takes a leading role.
The content of plans may vary but must be consistent with the general objectives and infrastructure.
Though the national government has a strong position with regard to infrastructure planning, the local level of government also has considerable instruments. The POS (plan d'occupation des sols) is a specific responsi bi lity of the All larger communes (with more than 50 000 inhabitants) have such a POS, which is a strict zoning plan. Additionally the French communes have instruments for the implementation of plans as well. Compulsory purchase is an example of these additional instruments.
Urban development is generally carried out either through comprehensive development (zones d'aménagement concerté, the so-called ZACs), or through a land subdivision plan. ZACs are primarily meant to facilitate urban development operations carried out by authorities and private developers. This institution has been a great success since its introduction in 1967. Over 3000 ZACs have been created since then, including most station area initiatives. An important element in such a planning document is that it includes a programme for the construction of public facilities and their capital investment. The local authority as well as a private developer can carry out projects. Sometimes, however, implementation is carried out by a specially created public agency with a commercial status (étab-lissement public d'aménagement), or by a limited-liability planning agency of which the communes are a major shareholder, the so-called société d'économie mixte (SEM), as typically with railway station area redevelopment. In the former, the government is primarily responsible for development operations as well as for financial risks. In the latter, the local authority controls development but is only partially responsible for the financial result of the plan (Acosta and Renard, 1993).
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