Regional planning for balanced social and economic development : a Portuguese case study

J.L. Ferreira Mendes

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


1. Like many other countries, Portugal is facing numerous major problems related to regional unbalance and consequently to the location of economic activity. An unfortunate tendency has long been to judge an economy almost solely from the viewpoint of national production and consumption aggregats, without reference to the geographic division of economic activity.

However the questions of social justice in the distributions of the fruits of economic development are as important and as different in terms of regions as in terms of social classes.

Thus, at the present, increasingly attention is not being limited to the overall results of national development; the results are being accepted as satisfactory only if they concern the whole of the country, if each region is able to contribute to and participate in the national growth..

On the other hand, Government activity to guide economic and social development involves not only the activity of policies and programmes but also the losely related process of formulation of goals and means and of appraisal of the results.

If planning for regional development is intended to intervene realistically upon reality, it should be a continuous process in which the various units and levels of government subject the entire process to continuous review and evaluation leading to adjustment of plans, programmes and projects whenever necessary. Review and evaluation then form the transition to a new cycle of planning and decision making, moving ahead in time on the basis of a continuous stream of feedback information. At the same time, the fact is stressed that planning is actually a combination of plan formulation and plan inplementation.

Institutional framework, in the modern sense of the process of achieving intended results through organizations, is a major factor at all levels - national, regional, sectoral and local. There was a time when proposals for new development pro. jects - particularly large programmes for resource development, new industries, improved education and health services - were considered only in terms of economic and technical feasibility.. After many unfortunate failures, institutional feasibility has come to be recognized as also an important dimension of planning.

For evaluating the evolution of the objectives and means which have characterized Portuguese regional planning I rely in large measure on a general policy model formulated in the light of relevant theoretical and empirical considerations from economics and related social science discipline

One of the basic attributes of this model is its distinction among three types of analytic regions: congested, potential, and backward. The advantaSe of these distinctions over the common division between "developed" and "underdeveloped" regions is that they come to grips directly with the problem of overconcentration of population and economic activity in some areas, a problem too often neglected in favour of studying the difficulties experienced by relatively underdeveloped regions.

The circumstances which have given rise to the evolution of' Portuguese regional policy are compared with the assumptions of this basic model. Attention is given to the basic theoretical notions that have animated Portuguese thought concerning regional development and urban-rural integration, as well as to concrete measures which have been undertaken or which are envisaged for the future.

On the basis of these considerations an effort is made to formulate a number of generalizations regarding the potential strenghts and difficulties of regional planning policy-making and a number of operationally feasible proposale are set forth for dealing with the difficulties.

2. Portuguese regional planning was initiated on the basis of a deliberated attempt to deal rationally with spatial resource allocation, namely through the policy of "ordenamento do território".

In the terminology of the Third Plan, the Portuguese approach maintains that the policy of "ordenamento do território" must find a practical compromise between regions depending on a policy of publicly induced growth and regions depending on a policy of induced public investment. On the one hand, it must give every opportunity, under conditions of lively competition, to strong regions whose potential benefits the whole of the country. On the other hand, it must seek to involve the weak regions in a process of development at first induced, then autonomous, in a manner which will enable them to participate in the current of modernization and expansion which characterizes our time.

I try to show that the difficulties of Portuguese's backward regions are in large measure a result of a relative lack of benefits deriving from social investment. This is not to deny that economic investment in backward regions will produce advantages, but the effectiveness of such projects also depends on the degree to which the regions' human resources have been developed by social investment.

Therefore, I stress that while there is official recognition of the needs to provide facilities for training surplus agricultural labor for employment in industry, there has not been adequate emphasis on the general problem of developing the human resources of these areas, despite the multitude of evidence concerning pronounced needs in this regard..

On the other hand, a great deal has been said and written about moving industry and other economic activities to people, but policy-makers generally are more reluctant to urge the movement of people to job sources. Until now official Portuguese policy has been unable to oppose and to diminish the growth of a surprising number of rural individually-owned farms in the face of rapid technological change. This attitude, combined with inadequate social investment, has served to perpetuate the social and economic structures characteristic of backward agricultural regions of the center and the north including a surplus agricultural labor force.

One of the principal arguments in favour of moving industry to backward regions, even at considerable expense in the
form of subsidies or similar means, has been that the social costs involved in this type of action are less than the social costs
which would entail the uprooting of persons seeking employment in other regions as well as the increased congestion which would result in industrial agglomerations, However, the latter difficulty is now a necessary one, since migration can be channeled to intermediate or potential, rather than congested regions.

On the other hand, the issue of uprooting residents of backward areas is a genuine problem since there is abundant evidence that the number of persons preferring to live in these regions is high in both absolute and relative terms.. Moreover, migration is not feasible for many persons because deficiencies in social investment in backward regions have limited the development of human resources and thus the possibility for their employment in other regions. Nevertheless, these arguments should not be used to discourage migration, since at the margin there are always persons ready and willing to migrate from backward regions.

In general, it may be said that Portuguese regional policy has been facilitated by its distinction among three types of region, and that its over-all division of effort among the regions so as to induce growth in backward regions while limiting the growth of the Lisbon region and allowing for the expansion of potential regions has been substantially correct. Investment policy
within regions, however, must place relatively greater stress on social investment for backward regions. As to population policy, the new emphasis on encouraging interregional labor migration is a positive step away from the more conservative attitudes which prevailed heretofore.

3. In any event, it is obvious that the value of the Portuguese regional development policy is related to the actual context in which it is to be applied. In this respect, the creation of regional organisms to participate in the formulation of regional priorities and in the regionalization of the government budget are of particular value in the elaboration of political ends and means.

Unfortunately, earlier efforts in this direction were characterized by important defects. The prograps for regional action which were drawn up as planning guidelines for the various planning regions generally have been plans in name only. They have been for the most part inventories of regional conditions at a giventime. In addition, they have been deficient intipulating orders of priority and modes of finance for suggested future projects.

Nevertheless, these programs have served to confront the Regional Planning Commissions with the need for horizontal consultation and coordination in regional terms as a complement to vertical planning by sectors; they have marked an initial, if not always successful, attempt to encourage cooperation among ministries and departments on common problems..

Thus, in order to satisfy the objectives of regional development foregoing discussed, the need for reform of the structures - or at least changes in the institutional apparatus - become increasingly necessary. To avoid "sprinkling" of public funds it is not enough just to introduce new methods into the organizational bodies concerned; it becomes clear that something has to be done about the decision-making structures themselves. Two complementary requirements become apparent among others:

- firstly, greater decentralization of decisions within the institutional apparatus and greater participation of people.

- secondly, horizontal co-ordination in order to break up the vertical compartmentalizations and to create in that way the conditions for a better synthesis capable of inspiring better decisions.

Just now, a new development Plan for Portugal is in preparation covering the period 1974-1979, Considering the methods of planning which have been employed in the country, one could advance that improvements in the planning process should take place both in the formulation of the plans and in their implementation.

On the one hand, the appearance of new and complex problems bound up with the development of techniques and industries impl. decision-making and executive methods at different levels from the traditional ones. A striking example is offered by the problems of urbanization and the development of physical planning techniques that these problems call for. Changes of every order follow from this, notably in the institutional field: the Portuguese district, though valid at the time when it was created, no longer corresponds to the dimensions of the current problems..

On the other hand, the challenge hurled by technical progress at liberal societies bestows enhanced power on the decision-makers. Having regard to the very high degree of sophistication of decision-making techniques, a gap is being created between the decision- makers and the masses.. This is to some extent the challenge of technical progress to modern democracy.

This set of factors has given birth to a lively desire to restore the structural balance, to institute participation by the citizens, which at the same time explains the phenomenon of Portuguese regional planning.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Hofstee, E.W., Promotor
Award date15 Nov 1974
Publication statusPublished - 1974


  • social policy
  • economic situation
  • agriculture
  • rural planning
  • rural development
  • land use
  • management
  • socioeconomics
  • regional government
  • Portugal
  • social sciences
  • social issues
  • social problems
  • economic production
  • economic planning
  • provinces
  • districts

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Regional planning for balanced social and economic development : a Portuguese case study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this