Territorial Planning Reform – Easier, but not for Everybody

Authors: Vilius Martisius, an Associated Partner, Attorney-at-Law at METIDA

construction-228471_640Many of you who faced issues regarding the preparation and coordination of detailed plans as well as other problems related to territorial planning would agree that this system in Lithuania was bureaucratic, stretched in time, unwieldy and with a lot of ‘gray areas’ In other words, it was not clear how and what to do, why one was not allowed to do what others could, and the like. A lot of effort, time and money were required in order to overcome this barrier.

Firstly – alterations in law

Since January 2014 new amendments and laws on various aspects have come into force (the new wording of the Republic of Lithuania territorial planning law, amendments in the land law, amendments in the construction law, a new territorial planning and construction law on state supervision and etc.) These laws were implemented as part of territorial planning reform, which aims to speed up and simplify the territorial planning processes, make them more efficient, facilitate the development of real estate projects, and improve the investment environment.

The changes resulted in the annulment of the requirement to draw up detailed plans (at least in many cases), an opportunity to divide the land into smaller plots or to change the use of land by gaining planning well as the ability to begin constructions without detailed planning. The detailed plan in most cases is not required when changing the use of land, since it is enough to have municipality director’s orders. Nowadays detailed plans are prepared only for large areas, which include at least a block or a part of a city. The detailed plans are not held in non-urbanized areas too, if general plans and special territorial planning documents are valid. The land usage planning documents or land holdings projects can be organised in these areas in according to the demand.

Private individuals are left with territorial planning initiative right. With its implementation they can offer local authorities to organise appropriate territorial planning documents. The preparation of such documents has become a municipal obligation that cannot be transferred to private individuals, as it has been done in the past when signing contracts of organiser’s transfer of rights. The methods to raise public awareness of the ongoing processes have also changed. Indeed, the information is published in cyberspace on www.tpdris.lt website (information system of preparation of territorial planning documents), and on neighborhoods billboards. Currently this online system is only partially finished and it should be completed by the end of 2014.

The changes affect everyone differently

After a few months of the new regime we can come up with some practical observations and generalisations.

For ordinary people with a few-dozen acres of land the situation definitely improved, since if they want to split them or change the use of land, they do not need to make detailed plans, as the land domain projects are sufficient. It should be noted that about 90% from the previously prepared detailed plans consisted precisely of such single-semi-detached house plots. From now on, everything that has been planned for the detailed plan is reported in the technical project and project proposals, but displayed in a more comprehensive way, more specifically and with visuals. Redundant duplication has been removed, when the same things have been dealt with twice – with detailed plans and technical projects.

The real estate market professionals and the construction developers also do not complain about the changes. They are satisfied that all procedures have become significantly shorter. It has become possible to get the permission to build objects for a desired purpose much faster when purchasing a land which is either blank or obstructed with buildings unfit for your purpose. This is especially true in cases when residential houses are built and the land is in urbanized territories that have infrastructure and are equipped with the engineering judgment. However, the conditions did not change for builders of large industrial facilities, high-rise buildings and large shopping centers. In fact, in some cases they became even worse, the requirements became stricter.

Municipalities preparing general and detailed plans, coordinating projects, issuing building permits received a greater freedom as well as responsibility, since they decide whether to allow or prevent the free of clutter areas, for what purpose to use them, whether to first develop territorial detailed plans and only later issue the building permit, or to allow build in a chaotic manner, and so on. Thus, each municipality can solve problems according to their needs, their demographic/urban situation.

Some direct participants of this system such as architects and designers should also be satisfied. Instead of the bureaucratic work and running with project proposals and requests across various institutions corridors, they can focus more on creativity and actual architectual work, i.e. work that they should do as real architects. Although perhaps the running and coordinating allowed many people to make an extra penny, it must be recognised that it is a relic of the past stage.

The conclusions will be made later

Naturally, in practice a lot of questions and uncertainty arose, e.g. how to understand one or another regulation or rule, what procedure is applicable in a particular case and etc. It is encouraging that the initiator and executor of this reform the Ministry of Environment has opened a hotline for consultation and assistance in solving such issues. One can call (and expect) to receive advice, guidance, make complaints, comments and suggestions. Such public institution’s approach and operative “service” is quite a novelty in Lithuanian public sector and it should be welcomed. Although, of course, you will not receive the answers to all your questions from the hotline, there will be one spot which will collect various signals that hopefully will be taken into account and consequently responded to by improving certain things in the legal regulation.

To sum things up, it can be said that this reform is a big step from stagnation. Whether this step is taken forward or to the side only time and participants’ particular activities of this process will tell.

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