Since the emergence of planning in Iran, about fifty years ago, Regional planning has had its ups and downs, without evolving. Regional planning approaches have been influenced by political, economical and social conditions. Sometimes, it has been used as a tool for (1) investing in the undeveloped areas, (2) concentrating of the investments in areas with good potentials, (3) regionalization of sector plans and (4) comprehensive regional planning. Changes in the concepts and the functions of regional planning in Iran have their roots in existing structural barriers before and after the revolution. Attempts for decentralization, and dominance of top-down planning, disintegrated sector plans, ambiguity of the rules, lack of guarantee for the implementation of plans, not believing in the effectiveness of the planning, disintegration at different management levels, lack of appropriate public and private participation approaches are some of the barriers for effective regional planning in Iran.
This paper is an attempt to present the barriers and challenges of effective regional planning in Iran. The methodology of the research is descriptive and analytic. Three major questions were tried to be answered in this research:
1- What has been the trend in regional planning in Iran?
2- What are the different approaches of regional planning in relation with the regional development plans in Iran?
3- What are the major barriers and problems of the regional planning in Iran?
Some of the problems of regional planning before revolution were: Lack of conformity between political and administrative boundaries with planning regions; Dispersed studies which made the comparison very difficult; Disintegrated planning and determining the priorities, without considering the priorities of other regions.
After the revolution, the first development plan had a positive point that one of the goals was to do the spatial organization of population and activities according to the principle of relative advantage.
The second development plan (1995-1999) was aimed at achieving social equity, optimum resource allocation, and construction of public facilities and reducing regional imbalances. Third development plan focused on the decentralization in political and administrative levels and planning.
Results and Discussion
Review of the plans after the revolution shows that there has been a positive trend, but not at acceptable levels. Problems and barriers of balanced regional development still exist.
Barriers and problems of regional development in Iran are:
• Defining regions and their borders: If it has not been conformed to the administrative boundaries, it has created problems. Regions have been defined sometimes according to political and administrative borders, sometimes larger and sometimes smaller. This has caused problems.
• Political and Administrative Decentralization: There has been a decentralization trend. But this type of planning has not been linked with policies at macro level.
• Disintegrated Sector Planning: Lack of coordination causing waste of resources and doing one project two or more times.
• Lack of Regional Development Discipline: Lack of defining institutions and organizations for management and control of regional plans is another problem. There is a need for inter-organization coordination. Regional plans cannot be successful without defining the appropriate level of management. Lack of coordination between sector plans and regional plans has led to regional development imbalances.
• Ambiguity in the Legal Status of Regional Planning: Regional plans do not have a legal and effective status in relation with national and local plans. Ambiguity in defining the legal status of regional plans, lack of clear definition of division of labor between related organizations, competition between related organizations has led to waste of resources.
As a whole, city planning regulations requires preparation of housing plans into three groups:
1- Comprehensive national plans,
2- Comprehensive plans for large cities, prepared by Ministry of Housing,
3- Guide plans for small cities, prepared by Ministry of Interior.
Comprehensive national plan has not been prepared yet. There are arguments about the selection of the organization responsible for doing that. Comprehensive and Guide plans are prepared for the area within the city’s boundaries. So, preparation of the regional plans, between the Comprehensive National Plans and the local Comprehensive Plans for the cities has not been considered.
• Dependence of Iran on Oil Revenues: This makes the whole system vulnerable to ups and downs in the price of oil.
• Lack of Culture of Planning at Management Level: This is another barrier. Budgets are devoted to powerful entities without planning a justification for that.
• Lack of Specialized Personnel and Weak Plans: There is severe shortage of educated people in the field of regional planning. Weak plans are another problem. Plans are not prepared in conformance with political, social, economic and implementation condition of organizations.
A review of regional planning in Iran during the past 50 years shows that the characteristics of the related organizations and their structure have led to lack of success of regional plans. Degree of decentralization in a country depends on the level of development. At the same time, there is a need for inter-organizational and sector coordination.