National Urban Policy

In Spain there are three levels of government involved in the design and implementation of urban policies. These include the central government, 17 Autonomous Regions/2 Autonomous cities, and local administrations: 50 provinces and 8123 municipalities. Notwithstanding the legislative diversity and devolution of the regulatory framework and of responsibilities across the three levels of government, there are some common principles:

• The Spanish Constitution guarantees the same level of rights and duties for all Spaniards, including the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing;
• Urban planning is understood as a public function;
• Principle of equal distribution of duties and benefits, which is mainly applied to land-owners; 
• Shared competences between 3 administrative levels (the central administration, autonomous communities and local authorities);
• Commitment to a self-financing system for urban planning in order to alleviate the use of public regular budgets;
• Hierarchical planning system and subsidiarity.

In February 2019, Spain approved a new national urban policy: the Spanish Urban Agenda (SUA). It is a strategic, non-regulatory document. In accordance with the criteria established by the 2030 Agenda, the UN New Urban Agenda and the Urban Agenda for the European Union, it fosters sustainability in urban development policies. Additionally, the SUA provides a working method for all -public and private- partners involved in urban development (local and regional authorities, private sector, civil society, academia, NGOs, etc.). 

Spanish cities generally respond to an urban model with very positive values: compactness, density, complexity of uses and mean sizes, safe urban spaces that enhance social diversity. Nonetheless, it is still necessary to address problems such as ageing, precarious employment, dependency on social benefits particularly in rural areas as well as shrinkage.

In face of all above challenges, the SUA becomes an opportunity to preserve the best version of the Spanish cities with an improved and updated vision for the 21st century society.

Future Developments of Urban Policies 

The main Spanish urban policies for the next years are identified in the SUA. The Spanish Urban Agenda offers a real “menu a la carte” to help actors in the development and implementation of their own Action Plans. All of this is viewed comprehensively, including all towns and cities regardless of size and population, and under the terms of the triple helix of sustainability: economic, social, and environmental. The different actors comprise the key players in the Agenda, whose sole but ambitious goal is to achieve, in a coordinated, conscientious, committed and voluntary fashion, an urban model for our cities that is more sustainable, resilient, inclusive and safe.

The strategic framework of the SUA is structured by identifying 10 goals that enhance 30 specific objectives, each of which involves multiple action lines as well as descriptive data to allow administrations to develop their own diagnostic. Also, it includes indicators to facilitate the implementation of the Agenda. The adoption of the action plan involves the establishment of a strategy for the town or city with an integrated vision that is place-based and includes a timeline to ensure continuity to decisions being taken.

The Agenda compromises a specific action plan for the Central State structured along the areas identified as fundamental by the international urban agendas, i.e. regulations and planning, funding, governance, citizen participation and exchange, and dissemination of urban issues.


"It is not the first time for Spain to join the EUKN. The experience we had working with the network was extremely successful and interesting during our first membership, between 2004 to 2014.  When in 2017, we asked EUKN to organise a Policy Lab about the Urban Agenda for the EU, the results proved very useful. Sharing the UAEU objective to enhance knowledge networks and exchanges, we believe joining the EUKN is a good way to take steps towards this end. We think EUKN provides high-level expertise in all matters related to urban policy. It is fascinating to know the different ways other countries use to solve the same problems."