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The right blow or random moves? Evaluating the government's actions against "detrimental development"

Kuba Głaz
19 of January '23

The fight against "detrimental development" has been announced by Development and Technology Minister Waldemar Buda. The goal is generally right, but the tools for implementation may be insufficient. Many commentators point to the astonishing choice and mode of solutions proposed by the ministry.

We are going to war with the "detrimental development". That was the tenor of the Ministry of Development and Technology's announcement. At a conference convened more than two weeks ago, specifics were given. Seven changes are to appear in the Technical Conditions to which buildings and their location should conform, and two in the Construction Law. The Ministry's website reads.

"Detri-development means a poorer quality of life and measurable losses for the entire local community. The Ministry of Development and Technology is beginning the process of cleaning up the rules for the construction of multifamily buildings. All with the comfort of residents in mind.

The end of cubicle?

The most significant announcement concerns the square meters of newly delivered commercial units.The same limit as for apartments would apply in this case: a minimum of 25 sqm. Such a solution is to prevent the increasingly frequent practice of selling so-called micro-apartments, i.e. even ten-meter cubicles pretending to be apartments. As the Ministry rightly emphasizes: "an apartment is not a business premises."

Other proposals are already less obvious, and sometimes quite surprising, such as restrictions on balconies, the location of which, as the Minister notes, often does not allow for privacy. Hence the idea that there should be at least a four-meter gap between balconies located on a separate slab . For balconies located on the same slab or at a shorter distance, solid partitions are to be erected.

Where do these values come from?

The ministry has also recognized the increasing tightness and is advocating the need to increase the distance between houses. Thus, it proposes to increase the minimum distance of a building from the border of a plot to 6 meters. The minister also leaned towards the problem of insufficiently lighted apartments. Hence the idea of extending the sunlight hours of rooms from 3 to 3.5 hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the day of the equinox (except for rooms in inner-city developments).

Three other announcements concern common spaces. Closer still unspecified, provisions for playgrounds are to be changed so that some of them no longer resemble cages or walkways. Also taken to the workshop is "concretosis". At least 20 percent of the surface area of public squares and plazas would be biologically active. Finally, the ministry wants to take on the partial elimination of fences, which is enigmatically framed on the ministerial website as

the introduction of gaps between areas that make it possible to get around a neighborhood in a reasonable amount of time.

Meanwhile, regulations on acoustics are to change in the Construction Law. Hence the proposal to require a noise study before a building is put into use. The second change relates again to balconies—they are to be excluded from the building area.

Skeptical reactions

After the Ministry's intentions were announced, a wave of comments poured through the media. At first, a slight optimism prevailed, related to the fact that those in power recognized the growing pathologies in multifamily construction. Later, after careful analysis of the ideas, there was reserve and many sensible objections. The intentions are appreciated, but no longer the choice and shape of individual solutions. The list of restrictions is often seen as a collection of haphazard, hastily selected ideas. As the specialists quoted in the critical text of "Gazeta Wyborcza" stressed, these intentions were not consulted with the community of architects or investors and, what is already extremely strange, with the Main Urban Planning and Architectural Commission, which formally advises the Ministry.

Hence, the evaluations of the Ministry's proposals begin, in general, with high marks for the minimum square footage of a commercial unit, which will, perhaps, help stop the construction of more micro-apartments. This solution, however, will do nothing to eliminate the increasingly common practice of dividing large apartments into separately rented units.
On the other hand, the restrictions on balconies are rated low, and rightly so. Firstly, because the problem of their poor placement does exist, but it is not one of the common mistakes, is rarely signaled in descriptions of „detri-development”, and may prove counterproductive. Developers obliged to maintain the spacing between balconies, may simply, limit their number and sell some apartments without these amenities.

The demand for biologically active area in squares and plazas is also met with little enthusiasm. Without specifying the type and scale of vegetation, the greening requirement could end up with the arrangement of the simplest lawn. There are also questions about why the 6 meters of distance from the border of the plot or the increase in sunshine hours to 3.5 hours apiece. This is because it seems that these substantively legitimate changes were not preceded by thorough analysis. Similarly unclear are, also legitimate in terms of the direction of change, ideas related to fencing.

When systemically?

Finally, the list of ministerial strictures, is in apparent contrast to the „facilitation” of building houses without a permit, or the elimination of almost all norms for the interiors of apartments, introduced over the past few years. Thus, the government's policy appears to be extremely inconsistent and — despite good intentions — prepared „on the knee”. In addition, the Polish space needs a very well-developed and consulted systemic change, which — despite the announcements — we cannot wait for. We are talking about a thorough amendment to the Land Use Law, which MPs were supposed to deal with finally in December.

For the time being, Minister Buda has announced that he will not back down from introducing proposed solutions against „detri-development”. He further informs that if developers find new ways to circumvent the regulations, further restrictions will be introduced.

Jakub Głaz

The vote has already been cast

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