Legal enactment on Land Planning, Urbanism and Construction Code – Development tool or stress factor for investors?

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Authors: Ioana Grigoriu and Adriana Stoica

After more than two decades from the inception of land planning and urbanism regulations in Romania, the country seems to be at the gate of a new enactment aiming to bring not only a better organized set of rules for governing the urbanism development of cities, but also a sense of stability in the way this area is going to be viewed from now on.

In March this year, the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration published on its official website the project regarding Land Planning, Urbanism and Construction Code (hereinafter referred to as the “Code”). The project aims to organize the laws applicable in the urbanism and construction areas and to underline new principles for a more complex, coherent and stable legal framework.

As opposed to other countries based on the roman-germanic legal system, such as France, for example, which has regulated for so many years the urbanism and construction sectors through its Urbanism Code, Romania faced many challenges in finding a way to interpret the urbanism and construction legislation and to adapt the rather dusty and non-correlated provisions to everyday life. With this Code, Romania should finally be able to welcome new rules focused not on prevention or sanctioning, but more on unifying this sector.

The Project speaks of desired concepts such as achieving a quality built environment, ensuring the constitutional right to a healthy environment, maintaining a balance between the general and the individual interest, creating stability and predictability on the investment market and, implicitly, economic competitiveness. If and how these bold concepts will actually be implemented remains, at this stage, a mix of mystery and hope.

The conditions that lead to the necessity of a Land Planning, Urbanism and Construction Code

In the context of a developing economy, the analysis of the Romanian land and urban planning legislation revealed the existence of an uncontrolled expansion of the built areas, increased pressures upon the transport and utilities infrastructure or aggressive urban interventions which cause disturbances in the proper functioning of the localities.

The Project provided that the necessity of a Land Planning, Urbanism and Construction Code is mostly determined by:

  • frequent amendments of urbanism and construction legislation, leading to uncorrelated, unclear and interpretable legal provisions;
  • lack of correlation between different planning documents;
  • excessive bureaucracy and delays in the authorization and approval of land planning and urbanism documentations and for authorization of construction works;
  • a poor level of information of citizens and the lack of their active participation in decisions concerning land planning, urbanism and construction matters;
  • public authorities deprived of essential resources;
  • the predominance of verifications focused on the compliance of documents and not on their quality or impact over the existing environment;
  • the deficiency of specialized legal provisions regulating dispute resolution and the absence of specialized courts in the land planning and construction sector.

The matters regulated by the Code

After the identification of the main conditions that lead to the need for  the Code, the Government decided that a systematized and coherent legislation regulating the land planning, urbanism and construction area would cure some of the deficiencies that affect this domain.

In order to achieve this purpose, the Project of the Code aims to regulate the following topics: (i) land planning and strategic territorial planning; (ii) urbanism and urbanism documentations; (iii) the specialized land planning, urbanism and permitting the construction works public administration; (iv) provisions applicable to the entire territory of Romania; (v) real estates and areas affected by special regulations; (vi) operations and projects of national interest; (vii) the regime of the urbanism operations for urban regeneration and reorganization; (viii) the regime of permitting of the construction works and of the demolitions of buildings works; (ix) the administrative dispute resolution specific to urbanism and permitting of the construction works; (x) constructions performance criteria; (xi) roles and liabilities in construction works; (xii) provisions related to the real estate development; (xiii) provisions related to the existence of the buildings (in Romanian “ciclul de viata al constructiilor”); (xiv) materials, products, equipment, systems and technologies.

Key principles for the new legislation

According to the preliminary theses published on the official website of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration, the Code will be regulated by a series of principles that may determine a stable regime in the relevant domains.

First of all, the provisions of the Code will recognize the cultural patrimony and the natural environment as resources of national identity. This principle will be correlated with the principles of the Project of the Patrimony Code, approved under Government Decision no. 905/2006.

Second, the Project aims to ensure a coherent and proper approach of the legal provisions, so as to encourage the conditions of a quality development of the built environment and the protection of the final consumer. Therefore, the Code intends to contain unitary definitions, precise classifications and terms, as well as clear provisions with respect to the roles and liabilities of the parties involved in the regulated areas.

Moreover, the Project proposes the reconsideration, update and incorporation of the urbanism and land planning documentations. The provisions related to the urbanism documentations should establish the system of urbanism, land planning and territory planning, observing the following principles: establishing a set of guidelines for preparing and approving the urbanism and land planning documentations and determination of legal provisions in order to clearly determine the extent to which public authorities and citizens may intervene in the decision-making process.

One novelty provided by the Project is a gradual, fair, coherent and reasonable approach of the permitting process, simplifying the procedures for minor construction works, preventing illegal constructions and ensuring the premises for the growth of the constructions’ quality, decreasing the bureaucracy and the arbitrariness in the decision-making process.

Last but not least, the Code will contain provisions meant to redefine facts that are considered criminal or minor offences.

New rules regarding urbanism, land planning and constructions

As per the information published on the official website of Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration, the Code will contain a series of new provisions designed to maintain a dynamic development. In this regard, the Code will contain a diversification of the building permit categories depending on the type of the intervention (for construction, improvement and demolition works) and depending on the location or on the level of the intervention and/or the category of importance.

In addition, the Code will include a separate chapter for the definition of constructions (not only buildings), with a classification system and the division into uniform and coherent categories based on clear criteria.

One of the most important new aspects enacted by the Code is the sixth book of the first part of the Code, which contains elements regarding administrative dispute resolution specific to urbanism and the permitting of the construction process.

A separate section of the Code will be designated for identifying and definingf the roles and responsibilities attributed to each of the parties directly or indirectly involved in the construction process. The investor, whether a private person or a public organization, will have a higher level of responsibility not only regarding the supervision and the control of the construction process, but throughout the design and project phase.

Upcoming steps

According to a press release of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration, the Code is currently in the argumentation stage, which will involve 6 rounds of consultation (two of which during the month of August at the headquarters of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration). The aim is to identify the main dysfunctionalities that result from the current application of the urbanism / construction niche legislation.

For this reunion, representatives of the competent ministries (transportation, environment, patrimony, energy), as well as representatives of the public / private administration and institutions are invited. If all goes well, future rounds of debate of the project will be held at regional level.

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