Further regulatory refinements of the three control lines of territorial spatial planning


China’s ecological redline are important control lines of the “three control lines of territorial spatial planning”, which also include designated permanent basic cropland lines, and boundaries for urban development. In April 2023, the delineation of China’s ecological redlines was declared complete, and covering an area of about 3.04 million km2, accounting for more than 30% of China’s land area, as well as 150,000 km2 of coastal marine areas.

However, initially these different categories of control lines were drawn separately by different departments using different data sources and technical guidance, leading to a spatial mismatch and land use conflicts. Conflicts of spatial management and economic interests emerged between ECRs and other development plans, agricultural production, transportation and energy infrastructure, tourism, and hydraulic engineering. In 2019, the MNR committed to developing coordination mechanisms with the NDRC to address these conflicts and strengthen top-level wholistic planning . In 2019, the MNR released the Guiding Opinions on Integrated Delineation and Implementation of the Three Control Lines in Territorial Spatial Planning which sought to clarify the relationship between the three lines. It highlighted that farmland, communities, and mining activities should be progressively withdrawn from core protected areas, while they could be maintained in non-core areas depending on the extent of their impacts on ecological functions. In May 2023, one step further in this process of solving contradictions was achieved with the release by the MNR of a notice “on Deepening the Reform of “Integrating Multiple Reviews into One and Multiple Certificates into One” for planned land use” that offers further interpretation of how local spatial planning should be pursued and how authorizations for projects should be integrated. Among other things, it requires that lower-level planning, while accounting for local conditions, abide by a list of mandatory planning requirements, and do not infringe on higher-level planning. It also gives the authority to local Natural Resources Bureaus (NRBs) to integrate various evaluations of projects’ abidance with land selection and zoning (redlines) requirements to avoid multiple parallel processes, though it does not spell out how NRBs will manage this integration with other departments in practice.