Memento : the tools of operational urban planning

definitions, building blocks

Jean-Loup Menochet, August 2020

One of the characteristics of operational town planning is the use of zoning to define, classify, support or intervene on a territorial entity, whether at the regional, departmental, communal, intermunicipal, living or employment area level, etc. At the city level, There are global definition spaces (urban units or areas) as well as regulatory spaces (ScoT, PLU, etc.) which are intervention zones that also include internal zoning that will not escape interaction with related or unrelated spaces; the difficulty for the developer is to take into account the technical tool as much as the interactions related to the territories.

Some definitions of usage ##

Urban Unit

« Urban unit » means a commune or a group of communes which includes on its territory a built-up area of at least 2,000 inhabitants where no dwelling is separated from the nearest one by more than 200 metres. In addition, each municipality concerned has more than half of its population within this built-up area ».

«  If the urban unit extends over several communes, all these communes together form a multi-communal agglomeration or urban agglomeration. If the urban unit extends over a single commune, it is referred to as an isolated city.

The catchment area

It is the smallest area where the inhabitants have the most common facilities and services. It is centred on a commune or urban unit with at least 16 of the 31 intermediate services identified and the area of influence is measured in travel time, by road during off-peak hours at the commune level.

The employment zone

It is a space that groups together most of the resident and working assets and in which companies can find the labour needed for their activity. It is based on the commuting flows of the working population observed in the censuses.

The urban area

The general definition of the urban area states that it refers to « a « set of municipalities, in a single block and without enclaves, consisting of a pole (urban unit) of employment, and of rural municipalities or urban units in which at least 40 per cent of the employed resident population works in the pole or in municipalities attracted by it ».

A differentiation between areas appears in 2010. It is essentially linked to the number of jobs offered, i.e. :

The articulation of the different zoning systems

The general articulation of the different zoning systems takes place according to the typology of the spaces. The regulations may be specific to them. For example, the communal maps concern by default the rural communes, unless they decide to adopt a PLU, whereas the towns, because of their importance, their urbanistic, social, economic evolution…have their building rights managed by a PLU.

Similarly, the groupings of communes are not homogeneous… Some concern areas with a rural vocation and their own problems (maintenance of small activities, essentially craft, agricultural and local trade…) such as the community of communes of Cœur Lauragais east of Toulouse ; others have more urban concerns related to the tertiary or industrial economic development, flow management and population growth (e.g.: SICOVAL east of Toulouse).

The SCoT,

Territorial Coherence Schemes also follow different logics (SCoT of the greater Toulouse conurbation vs SCoT Lauragais). They are the result of a reflection concerning strategic orientations on a wider area than the commune or its groupings ; whereas the InterSCoT approach aims at a mutualisation of reflections on an interdepartmental scale (Haute Garonne and Aude, for example).

The SCOT was created by the SRU (Urban Solidarity and Renewal) law of December 2000 as an urban planning tool for municipalities or their groupings wishing to adhere to a territorial project at the level of the living area, to harmonise and coordinate their policies in terms of town planning, housing, economic development, commercial establishments, etc.

It must take into account three main principles :

1. The balance between urban spaces (optimisation and redeployment in urban space : building the city within the city) and the preservation of areas used for agricultural and forestry activities, as well as the protection of natural areas and landscapes ;

2. The diversity of urban functions and social mix (functioning in homogeneous neighbourhoods, intergenerational solidarity : crèches vs. retirement homes…) ;

3. Respect for the environment: no development without taking into account the issue of sustainable development. The PDU (Urban Travel Plan) becomes compulsory for agglomerations with more than 100,000 inhabitants).

They are drawn up on the initiative of the municipalities or their competent groupings. If there is an EPCI, by 2/3 of the communes representing half of the population or half of the communes representing 2/3 of the population. It is validated by the prefect.

Once adopted, the SCOT is opposable to regulatory urban planning documents (PLU, PSMV, communal maps), sectoral planning documents (PDU, PLH, SDC), operational urban planning documents (ZAC, ZAD, allotment, OPAH) for a period of 10 years. During this period, the steering committee of the EPCI or the joint union monitors or updates the SCOT. At the end of 5 years, a review period begins which must not exceed 5 years.

The three major documents making up the SCOT :

A diagnosis with socio-economic analysis of the territory and determination of the needs in terms of planning, development, state of the environment, differentiation of the environments (geographical, physical, demographic, activities/habitat…) established with the help of consular bodies (DIREN, DDAF, DDE, Water Agencies, environmental associations or others…).

It is an illustrative document which is structured by the project of the territory around the diagnosed points (social mix, TCSP, trade and activities in urban areas ; environment, heritage, land in rural areas…) and the expected consequences on the environment.

It legally constitutes the central part of the urban planning document defining the strategic objectives of the project.

They contain the 4 requirements for local planning documents.

1st prescription : the general zoning of the SCOT  territory; a division into large zones with a dedicated vocation…

2nd prescription : location of the natural spaces to be protected.

3rd prescription : the sector diagrams corresponding to specific diagrams with different prescriptions per sector according to the SCOT’s division …while trying not to lose sight of the question of territorial coherence

4th prescription : location of land reserves for operational town planning (ZAC, ZAD…).

PLU, local urbanism plans

The Local Urban Planning Plans retain the land law management dimension that was the hallmark of the P.O.S., but they must also be the support of a communal project. It is a tool for projecting the commune in the service of an operational urban planning ; it must be drawn up with respect for consultation and debate in a transparent manner between the different actors of the territory. It can be revised at the initiative of the prefect (major event making the PLU incompatible ; PIG, SCOTT…) or the mayor (successful municipal project).

When it is drawn up, the PLU must be compatible with various documents (SCOT, SMVM in coastal regions (sea enhancement plan), intermunicipal development and planning charters, DTA (Territorial Planning Directives), ZPPAUP (zone de protection du patrimoine architectural urbain et paysager), safeguarded sectors, departmental plans for the organisation of public services, PDU (Plan de déplacement urbain), PLH (Plan local de l’habitat).

The PLU is a document in 5 parts :

The internal zoning of the PLU :

Ua : Downtown, historic town, heart of the city. The division can be refined with zones of type Ua1 or 1Ua…or other (Example : see the PLU zoning of Toulouse).

These are zones where building permits must be granted, subject to compliance with the PLU regulations.

Ub : zones with a predominantly economic character.

Uc : zones with a predominance of collective housing.

Ud : urban area with a predominantly suburban character

Ue : small natural spaces : public gardens green spaces

Ul : railway rights-of-way (SNCF, Tram, RER, Metro…)

An alternative for rural communities :

The communal map is a simplified urban planning document which delimits the areas of the commune where building permits can be issued. It can widen the perimeter of new building zones or reserve sectors for craft or industrial establishments but does not regulate in a precise manner, such as the PLU, the nature or location of buildings: the regulation is that of the R.N.U (National Urbanism Regulation). It is an alternative to the PLU for rural communities.

Its preparation, at the initiative of the municipality, is simplified (no compulsory consultation with the public); it must respect the general principles set out in articles L.110 and L.121-1 of the town planning code (objectives of balance, economical management of space, diversity of urban functions and social mix) and its approval is joint (municipality and State) after submission to a public enquiry by the mayor.

If the municipality is part of an EPCI competent in urban planning, the EPCI conducts the procedure.

EPCIs (Établissements Publics de Coopération Intercommunales - Public Establishments for Inter-municipal Cooperation)

Public establishments for intermunicipal cooperation (EPCI) are groupings of communes whose purpose is to draw up joint development projects within solidarity perimeters. They are subject to common rules that are homogeneous and comparable to those of local authorities. Urban communities, conurbation communities, communities of communes, new conurbation syndicates, syndicates of communes and mixed syndicates are EPCIs.

A distinction is made between EPCIs without their own tax system, which are syndicates acting on behalf of local authorities (SIVU : Syndicat Intercommunal à Vocation Unique ; SIVOM : Syndicat Intercommunal à Vocation Multiple…) and EPCIs with their own tax system, which are municipal grouping entities (Communauté Urbaine, Communauté d’Agglomération, Communautés de Communes, Syndicats d’Agglomération Nouvelle, Métropole).

Tax-Friendly EPCIs

The different intermunicipalities have a legislative constant that is specific to the definition of the Community of Municipalities in July 1999: the objective of the common project and territorial continuity without enclaves.

« The Community of Municipalities is an EPCI grouping together several municipalities in a single block and without enclave. Its purpose is to associate communes within an area of solidarity with a view to drawing up a common development and spatial planning project ».

The conditions « in one piece and without enclave » are not required for communities of communes existing on the date of publication of the Act of 12 July 1999 or resulting from the transformation of a district or community of towns pursuant to that Act (cf. arts. 51 and 56): Source INSEE.

Then come the notions of «  gabarit  » of the created entity linked to the population grouped in these spaces. Coming in increasing order of size :

This status replaces a previous legal structure, the Syndicat Communautaire d’Aménagement (SCA) de Ville Nouvelle. Some of these syndicates have been transformed into agglomeration communities. Of the 9 created in 1984, 4 will remain in 2013 : SAN de Sénard-Ville nouvelle (8 communes : 101641 inhabitants), SAN Ouest Provence (6 communes : 99599 inhabitants), SAN du Val-d’Europe (5 communes : 27253 inhabitants), SAN de Sénart-en-Essone (4 communes : 17003 inhabitants).

GPV (Major City Projects)

The GPV, a particular tool for operational urban planning :

It is a global social and urban development project designed to reintegrate one or more districts into the development dynamics of their agglomeration. It gives the public authorities the means to carry out large-scale urban renewal operations within the framework of a « city contract » in order to stop the marginalisation of neighbourhoods in difficulty. The challenge is to rebuild the city on itself in a logic of integration of social housing neighbourhoods into the urban fabric in a logic of social cohesion, limiting urban expansion in a perspective of sustainable development…

Today there are about fifty GPVs which are the successors of the GPUs (Major Urban Projects) created in 1992 after the troubles in Vaux en Velin, and of a specific policy for neighbourhoods in difficulty called «  politique de la Ville  » initiated in the 1980s.

The ZUS, ZRU and ZFU: urban policy measures for the revitalisation of certain urban areas.

Specific zonings have been created with the aim of «  farrowing  » the nature of the financial aid allocated in the framework of identified actions:

The protection zones

The ENS (Sensitive Natural Areas)

This notion was instituted by the law of 31 December 1976, following the sensitive perimeters established by decree in 1959 to limit the uncontrolled urbanisation of the coasts.

It is a tool for the protection of natural spaces by land acquisition or by agreement with public or private owners with the aim of protecting them to be open to the public. It is the field of intervention of the General Councils within the framework of their departmental environmental policy.

These areas also contribute to the national Green and Blue Framework following the Grenelle Environment Round Table.

The ZPPAUP (Architectural, Urban and Landscape Heritage Protection Zone)

They are the result of a system introduced by the State with the decentralization law of 7 January 1983. The objective is the preservation of the landscape and urban heritage and the enhancement of districts or sites of architectural or historical value in the continuity of the Malraux law (preservation perimeter of 500 metres around a historical monument) but by replacing it with an « intelligent perimeter ».


They have replaced the ZPPAUPs since the Grenelle II law of 14 July 2010 by integrating, in addition, the objectives of sustainable development (energy, environment, consultation with the population, etc.) with a view to coordination with the PLU. The former ZPPAUPs maintain their prerogatives until 14 July 2015.

The PSMV (Plan de Sauvegarde et de Mise en Valeur)

The PSMV is an urban planning document that takes the place of a PLU within the perimeter of a protected zone ; it is enforceable against third parties. It is by nature more prescriptive than the PLU and focuses on the rules for the protection of the existing built heritage and on the architectural prescriptions of the sector. All interior and exterior development work must first be the subject of a written request and authorization after consultation with the Architect des Bâtiments de France. It may also be required that the facades of the buildings be restored in accordance with the nature and colour of the materials used.

The PSMV file is of the same nature as that of a PLU and includes the following documents :

Graphic documents specifying the different zones included in the PSMV (districts with different architecture…), the related easements as well as complementary documents defined by article R123-13 of the Urban Planning Code (pre-emption zones, plan of zones at risk of exposure to lead…).

The elaboration of the PSMV is a competence of the State, exercised by the Prefect. However, the competent authorities are involved, particularly with the order of 28 July 2005.

Development procedures

To enable intervention, the toolbox of the developer and the public authority must be able to handle a combination of tools allowing action to be taken on more or less extensive action perimeters (part of a district, subdivision, plot). The public authority plays a central role as project owner : in addition to compliance with the town planning code, the choice of operational actors, the financial means and other impact studies on the territory planned upstream, it must also consider legal means for land operations (purchase, sale, parcel restructuring in line with the project in question, etc.).

This involves specific intervention zoning with its own regulations (ZAC, Subdivision, etc.), procedures for acquiring plots of land (DPU Urban Preemption Right) while respecting the constraints dictated by the strategic orientations defined by the community (PDU Urban Displacement Plan) and, possibly, the search for an environmental approach related to the project (e.g. HQE Development).

The ZAC (Zone d’Aménagement Concerté)

The BIA procedure is one of the main tools of public action in planning. It was instituted by the LOF (Land Orientation Law) of 1967 to replace the ZUPs and facilitate consultation between public authorities and private developers. Originally endowed with a regime that derogates from urban planning documents, the 1976 urban planning reform required ZACs to be compatible with the SDAU (Schéma Directeurs d’Aménagement et d’Urbanisme) and to be located in the urban or urbanisation zones of the POS. Nevertheless, they could be provided with an autonomous regulation : the PAZ or zone development plan. The SRU law of 13 December 2000 removes the need for new ZACs to have such a plan and submits them to the commune’s PLU. The procedure for the creation of ZACs is an initiative by a public entity wishing to organise a space within the framework of its development policy. Usually through a semi-public company in charge of the project and in relation with the promoters, it will define the programme of public facilities to be built in the area as well as the overall programme of constructions to be carried out in the area.

The ZAD (Zone d’Aménagement Différée)

This is an area where a developer (local authority, SEM or EPCI) has a right of pre-emption, currently for 6 years, on all sales of real estate or social rights. The purpose of this system is to build up land reserves that are safe from speculation and to prevent the price of land needed for a public project from soaring when the project is announced. The ZADs are created by prefectoral decree, whether or not proposed by the commune or the competent EPCI. PreZADs can be created for a maximum of 2 years to avoid speculation between the announcement of the creation of the ZAD and its actual emergence.

The DPU (Urban Pre-emption Right)

Like the ZAD, the objective of the DPU is to offer the possibility to a local authority, within a defined perimeter, to pre-empt the sale of a property in order to carry out a development operation. It is at the initiative of the municipalities without any time limit.

The allotments

Subdivision is a process of dividing a property into lots for the purpose of building mainly housing but there are also industrial or commercial subdivisions. Its often monofunctional character, its strong contribution to the phenomenon of peri-urbanisation, the consumption of agricultural land and its ecological and energy impact raises the question as to whether we reason in terms of social and spatial mix or the integration of sustainable development principles in the act of building and development. The main actor in the creation process is the developer, who has sufficient capital to acquire an area that cannot be built on, generally on the outskirts of an urbanised area, and then carries out the servicing and servicing, as well as the division into lots of the land to be built on, and finally markets it. The development of allotments is regulated by the town planning code, in particular articles L 442-1 et seq., L480-4-1, L 480-15 and R 442-1 et seq. A decree of 28 February 2012, simplifying the system of instruction and deadlines for building permits in housing estates came into force on 1 March 2012.

The eco-district

The eco-neighbourhood can take the form of a subdivision. It often emanates from the will of a local authority, as the example of the eco-district «  Les Courtils  » in Bazougue-sous-Hédé (Ille et Vilaine) which is regulated by a specification taking into account the nature of the building materials, To enable rural communities to draw inspiration from eco-neighbourhoods, the government is publishing a reference framework with texts and examples of reference in terms of sustainable development.

The urban travel plan (PDU)

The Urban Travel Plan (PDU) is a planning tool, set up for 10 years in order to promote a harmonious and controlled development of the territory with the concern of a common culture of urban and intermunicipal transport. It is articulated in a given area called Urban Transport Perimeter (UTP) for which all modes of transport are concerned. It must also include an environmental assessment component, promote action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, save energy and limit the impact of travel on the Green and Blue Network (TVB).

HQETM Development certification

It is not a regulation or a label, but a voluntary approach to managing the environmental quality of a project. It is inspired by a strictly territorial aspect, at the interface of territorial coherence schemes (SCoT), local urban planning (PLU), or Agenda 21, and the HQE technical reference system adapted to the building. It defines a framework for carrying out development operations integrated into their territory, whose project management ensures the good governance and feasibility of the programme over time. It is also intended to be a decision-making tool and aims to support local authorities and public or private developers in carrying out urban development operations that integrate the three main components of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental). All development operations are concerned, whatever their size, procedures, territories or destinations (renewal or new, urban or rural, housing or activities).