The spaces where countryside meets town are often amongst society's most valued and pressured places which together form the rural-urban fringe (RUF). A 'messy' yet opportunistic space in policy and decision making processes, the RUF remains confused and 'disintegrated' lacking sufficient understanding and explicit attention for sustainable management as places in their own right. This paper exposes the scope, nature and reasons leading towards policy disintegration within the RUF with critical attention on the separate lenses of the Ecosystem Approach and Spatial Planning frameworks reflecting a marked natural and built environment divide. Using research funded by the Rural Economy and Land Use programme, three 'bridging' concepts were identified within which improved integration is explored: Time, Connections and Values. Using team member thoughtpieces and workshops, together with visioning exercises in two rural-urban fringes, a series of narratives are presented within which the RUF opportunity is re-discovered set within a hybridised theory of spatial and environmental planning. In so doing the paper challenges established economic and planning models of urban development and expansion with more holistic ideas and approaches. One size-fits-all solutions such as greenbelts, regionalism or localism are rejected within an approach that champions multi-scalar and sectoral perspectives set within a governance framework that achieves social and economic well-being through maintaining and enhancing ecosystem functions and services. We conclude by arguing that policy strands within environment and planning must be better connected allowing the RUF to be developed as an opportunity space for testing and experimentation.