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New regulations in urban planning. An interview with Marta Zuber

21 of January '23

What changes will the reform of the urban planning system bring? How is it perceived by architects and urban planners? How much will we pay for issuing a zoning decision? Which provisions have changed after public consultations? Answers to these and other questions are provided by architect Marta Zuber, member of the Provincial Urban Planning and Architectural Commission of the Silesian Voivodeship.

MartaZuber - architect, member of the Provincial Urban Planning and Architectural Commission of the Silesian Voivodeship, which advises the Marshal of the Silesian Voivodeship on matters of spatial development. She is a member of the Audit Committee of the Silesian Regional Chamber of Architects and the SARP Bielsko-Biała Branch. Together with her husband, she runs a design studio Archas Design in Bielsko-Biała.

interview with Marta Zuber

Jozef Stachow: The Ministry of Development and Technology has prepared a draft amendment to the Law on Spatial Planning and Development, which is currently at the opinion stage. The legislation is expected to come into force this year. What are the main points of the reform?

Marta Zuber: The most important change concerns the replacement of the study of land use conditions and directions by a new - mandatory for the entire municipality area - general plan. Unlike the study, the general plan will be an act of local law. Its provisions will be binding when establishing local plans and when issuing zoning decisions.

Jozef Stachow: General plans will improve land use conditions in municipalities? Currently, local plans cover only one-third of the country.

Marta Zuber: General plans are supposed to contain simplified urban planning elements and have a concise form. Introducing them in place of an extensive and detailed study will certainly streamline the existing planning and development system in municipalities. According to the bill, municipalities will have until 2026 to enact them. Setting a statutory deadline is expected to motivate local governments to take informed and necessary planning measures. Co-funding of the National Reconstruction Plan from the budget is also expected to help in their speedy adoption.

Jozef Stachow: How are the changes proposed in the law received in the community of architects and urban planners?

Marta Zuber: The changes were expected by designers, architects and urban planners. They were supposed to significantly simplify the existing procedures and speed up planning proceedings, and above all give municipalities the tools to bring chaotic development under control. However, there have been concerns that they will be too strict on some points and could hold up new developments.

Jozef Stachow: What regulations do you have in mind?

Marta Zuber: For example, those concerning accessibility standards for social infrastructure. The authors of the amendment proposed provisions to prevent uncontrolled development. The idea was, among other things, to prevent developers from setting up "satellite settlements" on the outskirts of cities, to which roads and utilities would later have to be built at the municipality's expense. New developments were therefore decided to be linked to the presence of schools and public green areas in their vicinity. According to the bill, the distance of a new building to a school is to be no more than 1.5 kilometers (3 kilometers in the countryside). The same distance is to be maintained to a public green area of 3 hectares, and no less than 3 km to another large public green area of 20 hectares. Such criteria may have proved difficult to meet. Especially in localities where there is a lot of investment pressure. In addition, not all municipalities have vacant land and its separation and development for a public purpose is no small cost. Therefore, already in the course of work on the draft amendment and after public consultations, the ministry decided to leave this tool as optional, handing over its application to the choice of the local administration. As a result, the regulations will ultimately not tie the hands of municipalities, but will give them guidelines for rational spatial design.

Jozef Stachow: People who own a plot of land or are planning to build a house are particularly interested in changes regarding zoning decisions. What is to change in the regulations?

Marta Zuber: Initially, the ministry wanted development conditions, which today are issued for an indefinite period, to be valid for only three years. After a pre-consultation of the draft, it decided to extend this period to five years. In the end, the provision, which stirred up a lot of controversy, ended up in the trash. However, the fees are to change, and significantly. Previously, a person applying for development conditions for his own land did not pay any costs, while those applying for someone else's, such as a perpetual usufructuary, paid a stamp duty of PLN 598. With the amendment to the law, the municipality will charge a planning fee on decisions on development conditions. It is to amount to 30% of the increase in the value of the property. However, it should be noted that the local administration body will be able to impose it only after the issuance of a building permit, so we can say that we won't pay it until we decide to start the investment.

Jozef Stachow: Will the fee associated with the introduction of the local plan also change?

Marta Zuber: The existing structure of the planning annuity is set to change dramatically. First of all, the fee will cover all properties that have gained in value as a result of the enactment of the plan, regardless of whether and after how long after its enactment the property is sold. Previously, it was quite common practice to delay the sale of land for five years after the adoption of the local plan. Regulations exempted owners from fees after this period. Also, the increase in the value of the investment could be determined by the mayor in a range of 0 to 30%. Now the rate is to be set by law and be a fixed maximum value of 30%.

Jozef Stachow: When will the planning fee be required?

Marta Zuber: This is not yet precisely defined. The draft amendment is still being worked on. However, any owner of a property that has appreciated in value will have to expect that the municipality will impose an obligation to pay it.
We are talking all the time about the situation when the value of the land in question increases, because this is most often the case. It should be remembered, however, that in connection with the introduction of the local plan, some investments may also lose value, for example, due to restrictions on their previous use or enjoyment. Then the owner can claim compensation from the municipality equal to the reduction in the value of the property.

Jozef Stachow: The amendment is also to establish a new institution called the Urban Register. What is it to be used for?

Marta Zuber: Starting in 2026, all planning documents are to be available in one place, which is to be the online Urban Register. It is part of the digitization process being created by the Ministry. The free-of-charge system, at the disposal of all interested parties, is to be a source of information about, among other things, decisions of supervisory bodies, administrative court rulings, or reports on public consultations.

It is a much-needed tool that will enable the creation, collection, updating and sharing of data on land use planning and development. The register is to be maintained centrally, but the information necessary for its creation will be supplemented on an ongoing basis by local governments.

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