Key changes brought about by the reform of the Spatial Planning and Development Act

6 December 2023 | Bez kategorii, Knowledge, News, The Right Focus

On 24 September 2023, the amendment to the Spatial Planning and Development Act came into force.

According to the Ministry of Development and Technology, the main objective of the reform is to increase the flexibility and integrity of the planning system, simplify procedures and improve spatial governance in the country. To this end, new instruments have been introduced: the master plan and the integrated investment plan. The rules for issuing zoning decisions are also changing.

In our new series, ‘Spaces of the Future’, we look at the key principles of the reform.

The municipal master plan

The master plan (Polish: plan ogólny), which will eventually replace the existing land use plan (Polish: studium uwarunkowań i kierunków zagospodarowania przestrzennego), has the status of an act of local law, which means that its provisions are binding for the municipal authorities at the stage of preparing local zoning plans and in the process of issuing zoning decisions. A master plan must be adopted for the entire territory of the municipality.

Each municipality is required to adopt such a plan by 31 December 2025 at the latest. The legislator’s intention is to ensure that the document has a specific and transparent structure, but is also concise and easy to read. The master plan will have to include two mandatory elements, namely: (i) planning zones and (ii) municipal urban planning standards. In addition, the municipality will have the option to define (i) infill areas and (ii) downtown development areas.

The types of zones, the restrictions on their designation, and the municipal urban planning standards will be discussed in the next instalments of our series.

Simplified procedure for local zoning plans

The amendment also provides for a simplified procedure for the adoption or amendment of a local zoning plan (Polish: miejscowy plan zagospodarowania przestrzennego). It should be noted, however, that the simplified procedure may only be applied in strictly defined cases specified in the act. The simplified procedure will therefore be an exception to the rule – in principle, it will be used to amend plans that have already been adopted, not to adopt new plans.

The simplified procedure may be used, for example, in the case of amendments to a local zoning plan which are not the result of decisions taken by the municipality in the exercise of its planning powers, but which take account of natural conditions or development restrictions resulting from other regulations.

Under the simplified procedure, it is permissible to omit the stage of collecting proposals for the planning act, to limit public consultation to the mere collection of comments and to limit the scope and duration of approvals to 14 days.

The applicability of such a procedure is decided by the provincial governor, who has 14 days to make a decision.

The next parts of our series will feature which cases can use the new simplified procedure.

Changes regarding renewable energy

The amendment introduces a number of changes with regard to renewable energy sources, which means that investments in RES will take place under slightly different conditions. Firstly, if the adoption (or amendment) of a local zoning plan only concerns the siting of renewable energy facilities other than wind farms, a simplified procedure may be applied. According to the explanatory memorandum to the act, the purpose of such a solution is to speed up the investment process with regard to the implementation of RES-related investments.

According to the new regulations, it will only be possible to locate photovoltaic plants in areas covered by a local plan. Otherwise, an investor will not be able to implement the project in the area in question unless a zoning decision can be applied for, although it should be noted that the new regulations definitely limit the issuance of zoning decisions. The amendment also introduces changes regarding the issuance of a consent by the minister responsible for rural development for projects to be carried out on agricultural land or wasteland.

The amendment also introduces facilitations for investors applying for an integrated investment plan (ZPI) concerning renewable energy installations. In these cases – with the exception of wind farms – the procedure can be shortened.

The urban planning register (Polish: rejestr urbanistyczny) can be very useful for RES investors. The use of this tool can help to identify areas where, according to the local plan or master plan, renewable energy projects can be built. This will certainly speed up the investment process, bringing us closer to greater energy independence, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, lower energy costs and the promotion of sustainable development.

Future episodes of the series will look at the details of investing in renewable energy.

Integrated investment plan

The Integrated Investment Plan (ZPI) is intended to complement and eventually replace the so-called ‘Lex Developer’ resolution.

An important change in relation to the provisions of the ‘Lex Developer’ is that it will be possible to build not only flats but also commercial projects on the basis of the ZPI.

The ZPI will be a special form of local zoning plan, which will be adopted at the request of the investor after negotiation and conclusion of an urban planning agreement with the municipality. The conclusion of the urban planning agreement will be a necessary element of the process of adopting the ZPI. With the entry into force of the ZPI, the local plans will lose their validity in the part relating to the area covered by the ZPI in question.

On the basis of such an agreement, the investor is obliged to carry out an additional project alongside the main project, in return for which the municipality may undertake to provide the investor with various benefits (e.g. full or partial exemption from planning fees).

The following parts of this series will clarify whether ZPIs should be in line with the master plan, whether the municipality is obliged to adopt ZPIs, what requirements the ZPIs must meet and what the procedure for adopting ZPIs actually is.

Zoning conditions

The rules for issuing zoning decisions (Polish: decyzje WZ) will change significantly. A zoning decision on an application submitted after 1 January 2026 can only be issued if the municipality’s master plan has entered into force. It will only be possible to issue zoning decisions for the infill areas that are specified in the master plans.

On the one hand, this will prevent properties from being located in empty, undeveloped areas. On the other hand, this will ensure that municipalities have a say in the growth, quality and character of such development.

Importantly, zoning decisions that become final after 1 January 2026 will expire 5 years after becoming final. Zoning decisions that become final before that date will remain in force indefinitely.

Later parts of our series will discuss the details of issuing zoning decisions, the need to comply with the master plan, the revised principle of good neighbourliness, and the meeting of infrastructure accessibility standards.

Urban planning register

The amendment also introduces the urban planning register, which will be a free and publicly accessible database containing comprehensive information on the country’s spatial planning, including investment opportunities in any chosen location.

The register will include for example:

  • Resolutions to start the preparation of plans
  • Draft local plans and landscape audits
  • Applications for zoning decisions
  • Zoning decisions

Local authorities will be required to make this data available from 1 January 2026.

Public participation

The reform also includes a significant strengthening and simplification of public participation in the planning process, to which an entire chapter has been devoted in the amended act.

Three elements of consultation will be compulsory:

  • Collection of comments on the draft plan
  • Organising a meeting at which the draft plan is presented
  • Public discussion

and the carrying out of one of the forms of public consultation specified in the act.

The amendment also introduces a list of permissible forms of such consultation, including open meetings or meetings in the open air.

It will be possible to submit comments electronically as part of the consultations, and the time, place and manner of the consultations will be determined in such a way that as many residents of the municipality as possible can participate in them, e.g. after working hours.

What else does the reform of the Spatial Planning and Development Act include

The above is just an introduction to the changes that await us under the new act that will organise spatial planning in Poland over the next few years.

We are aware that all development decisions, starting with the location of buildings, their purpose, character, size and height, shape our immediate and distant surroundings for a very long time to come; they have an impact on what the heart of our cities looks like today, how the suburbs are shaped and where the main transport arteries run.

In the next parts of the series ‘Spaces of the Future’, we will discuss in detail the various provisions and their possible consequences in the short and long term.

We also encourage you to contribute to the dialogue, and will be delighted to answer any questions that may occur as you read. We would like to foster a broad and committed dialogue on the spaces we are planning for generations to come.

Questions? Contact us

Dominik Gryś

Malwina Jagiełło

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