1. Basic principles of the Act and objectives of different plans

According to the Act, there are three levels in the planning system: the regional land use plan, the local master plan and the local detailed plan. Municipalities can prepare inter-municipal joint master plans. The Government can decide on national planning policy guidelines.

Conflicting interests in the use of land for different functions are rather common. Mostly these conflicts, for example between development and nature protection, are solved in the planning process. An approved and binding land use plan, being democratically decided upon, is a genuine indication of the political will of the municipal council on how to develop their spatial structure and protect the environment. According to this political decision, a land use plan can strongly effect the social and economical conditions of the municipality.

National land use guidelines

According to the Act, the Ministry of the Environment prepares national land use guidelines which are decided upon by the Council of State (i.e. Cabinet of Ministers). These guidelines cover the entire country and concern issues which have 1) international or more extensive than regional impact on spatial structure, land use, or the transport or energy network; 2) a significant impact on cultural or natural heritage, or 3) nationally significant impact on ecological sustainability, the economy of spatial structure or avoidance of environmental hazards.

National guidelines are implemented mainly through regional plans. Inplementation is supervised by the MoE and the regional environmental centres. International agreements and programmes can be taken into account in national guidelines; they can be used for instance to apply the policy options included in the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP).

Besides legislation and national land use guidelines, the MoE prepares non-binding national strategies such as for example the Finland 2017 Vision of the Spatial Structure and Land Use. Likewise, the National Environmental Policy Programme 2005 includes measures which promote environmentally sound land use, information dissemination, financial instruments and suggestions for new public-private partnerships in planning and decision making. There are also

special programmes on forests, shoreline management, national parks and nature reserves, cultural heritage etc. All of these are implemented mainly by the land use planning system. There are also EU directives which have a direct effect on land use and management; for instance Finland has created a Natura 2000 nature protection network.

Regional planning

The regional councils (also referred to as regions) have the right to make their own land use plans and create regional development strategies. Regional planning includes the regional scheme, the regional land use plan which guides other land use planning, and the regional development programme. A regional plan is prepared by the regional council, the administrative character of which is that of a joint municipal board. The regional plan can cover the entire region or a part of it.

Particular attention is given to ensuring an appropriate regional and community structure, to preserving landscape values and ecological sustainability and to providing favourable conditions for business and industry. Regional land use plans also transfer national guidelines into local planning and shall be used as a guideline in preparing and amending local plans and when for instance sectoral measures are taken to organize land use.

Local plans

The municipal councils prepare and approve their own plans. Local plans shall, according to the Act, promote a well-functioning community structure, good access to services, and the conservation and maintenance of the natural and cultural heritage. When local plans are being prepared, consultations with regard to national guidelines or otherwise broader issues have to be held with the regional environmental centres.

Local master plan

The local master plan is approved by the local council. It is presented on a map and includes written regulations. The plan provides general guidance for the community structure and land use of a municipality or part of it. It can be fine-tuned according to local needs; the municipal council can make either a more strategic or visionary master plan to co-ordinate the spatial needs of different sectors, or it can make a more specific one to guide building directly, in which case certain legal implications concerning compensation for landowners are created. The local master plan indicates the areas required for detailed planning. The plan may also be drawn up in stages. The local master plan shall be taken into account also with regard to significant sectoral measures which might have impact on the environment.

The following must be taken into account in a local master plan:
  1. the functionality, economy and ecological sustainability of the community structure:
  2. utilization of the existing community structure;
  3. housing needs and availability of services;
  4. organizing traffic, especially public transport, walking and bicycling, energy networks, water supply and drainage and waste management in a manner which is sustainable in terms of environment, natural resources and economy
  5. opportunities for a safe and healthy environment which takes different population groups into equal consideration;
  6. business conditions;
  7. reduction of environmental hazards;
  8. protection of the built environment, landscape and natural values; and
  9. sufficient recreation areas.

Joint municipal master plan

For the purposes of general guidance of land use and integration of spatial functions, local authorities may co-operate in preparing a joint master plan. The local authorities may delegate the preparation and approval of this plan to the regional council or some other suitable joint organisation of local authorities.. A joint master plan has to be submitted to the Ministry of the Environment for ratification to gain legal consequences.

Local detailed plan

A single instrument, the detailed local plan, is used in all municipalities, urban and rural, for regulating the location of functions, size and type of buildings as well as the formation of the townscape. It is made for the purpose of detailed organization of land use, building and development. Local conditions, townscape and landscape, good building practice, promoting the use of the existing building stock have to be taken into account. The local detailed plan must be prepared and kept up-to-date as required by the development of the municipality or by the need to guide land use. Buildings may not be built against the local detailed plan (building restriction). When the purpose of the plan is such that it does not have significant impact, the municipal council may delegate its authority to the municipal board or to a municipal committee.

The local detailed plan is presented on a map indicating the following:
  1. the boundaries of the entire area covered by the plan;
  2. the boundaries and location of the areas for various functions:
  3. the public and private uses intended for land and water areas;
  4. the volume of building; and
  5. the principles indicating the siting of buildings and, when necessary, the type of construction.

    2. Planning obligation

All of the above mentioned plans are mandatory to prepare. In principle, all building requires a building permission that can not be granted without an approved land use plan. Projects of national interest such as power plants, major roads and other infrastructure are negotiated between the State and regional and local administration. The municipal government has the sole right to initiate and carry out and adopt local plans. All land use plans are financed from public budgets with the exception of the shoreline plan that can be financed by landowners. Most municipalities have their own planning offices and committees. Smaller municipalities can use private consultants. However, even plans made by consultants have to be approved by the municipal authorities.

    3. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in the planning process

Sustainable development was incorporated as a general goal already in the former Building Act in the beginning of the 1990's. According to the Act, all spatial plans are assessed in terms of their impact on nature protection, water and waste management and air protection. Public participation must take place

and EIA scheme has to be made at the beginning of all local and regional planning processes, and the results made public in a manner appropriate to the purpose and significance of the plan. The necessity for and extent of EIA is decided by different interest groups in co-operation. If the assessment and participation scheme is inadequate, the regional environment centre shall, without delay, arrange negotiations with the local authority to examine what additions are needed. Comparing alternatives is an essential part of the assessment.

    4. Main rules of co-operation and public participation

Display and discussion

The Act is based on an interactive approach which brings all citizens and institutions whose living and working conditions will be affected by a plan to participate in the process. The planning proposal must be made public in an appropriate manner in view of the purpose and significance of the plan. Inhabitants of the municipality and interested parties shall be provided with an opportunity to express their opinions on the matter (objection). The local authorityís decision on the objection with its reasons must be made known to the objectors without delay. What is provided for local authorities applies to regional councils.

Negotiations between authorities

The Finnish system is based on negotiation and interaction between all stakeholders. Land use plans that concern national or important regional land use objectives, or which are otherwise important in terms of land use, natural values, cultural environment or implementation of objectives of government authorities, shall be prepared in contact with the MoE, regional environment centre, neighbouring regions and municipalities.

    5. Concordance of plans

On all levels of land use planning, the spatial and sectoral actors whose sphere of activity the contents of the plan may concern, must be invited to negotiations.

    6. Supervision of plans

Approved local land use plans do not have to be submitted for supervision or ratification by other tiers of government. Regional plans have to be submitted for ratification by the MoE.

    7. Enforcement / adoption and validity of plans

National land use guidelines are approved by the Council of State. A regional land use plan is approved by the regional councilís highest decision-making body. Following approval, the regional plan is submitted to the MoE for ratification. If the regional plan does not meet the content requirements, or if the decision is otherwise unlawful, the MoE shall not ratify the plan or will ratify it only in part. If the various ministriesí opinions are essentially divergent, the MoE must take the matter to the Government for a decision. The local master plan and the local detailed plan gain legal power when they are approved by the municipal council.

If the parties involved that can be individual citizens, organisations or non-governmental organisations, do not accept the planning decisions by local level authorities, they can appeal against it through an administrative court. There is a standardised procedure of negotiations about local plans between the municipality and the regional environmental centre which can request for an amendment and make an appeal to the administrative court.

    8. Legal impact of different plans

National land use objectives are implemented mainly through ratified regional plans. A local plan has legal power when it is approved by the municipal council. A regional plan has legal power when it is sanctioned by the Ministry of the Environment. On the local level, building permits can be granted only according to enforced plans. Exceptional permits can be granted by the municipality (in cases of shoreline building, the permit is granted by the regional environment centre). As a main rule, when a plan has legal power, it is binding for all actors. The regional plan shall be used as a guideline in drawing up and amending local master plans, and when any other measures are taken into account in organizing land use. The regional plan is not valid in areas where a legally binding local master plan or detailed plan is in force. A building restriction is in force in areas designated as recreation or protection areas or areas for transport or technical service networks. As a main rule, where a building restriction is in force, a building permit may not be granted if it hinders the implementation of the regional plan.

The building restriction is in force until the regional plan has been ratified, though not longer than two years.

The local master plan shall be used as a guideline in drawing up and amending local detailed plans, and when any other measures are taken to organize land use. The local master plan replaces any previously approved local master plan for the same area, unless otherwise stipulated in the plan. The local master plan is not in force where a local detailed plan is in force. A building permit may not be granted if it hinders the implementation of the local master plan. A special order may be included in the local master plan, prohibiting for a maximum period of five years the use of land designated for building for any construction other than that serving the needs of agriculture or corresponding needs of livelihood (fixed-term building restriction).

A joint master plan that is approved by a joint municipal authority will gain legal consequences after it has been ratified by the MoE.

The local detailed plan

Buildings may not be built against the local detailed local plan. The local detailed plan shall be taken into account with regard to other measures altering the environment. For instance, a large retail unit may not be located outside the area designated in the regional plan or the local master plan for central urban functions. As a main rule, when the timing of the local detailed planís implementation so requires, the construction of a new building may be prohibited for a maximum of three years.

Shore areas

Buildings may not be constructed on seashore or inland shorelines without a local detailed plan or a legally binding local master plan. This section refers mainly to buildings in holiday use.

Landowners can prepare a detailed shore plan for the areas that they own. However, this plan has to be approved by the local authority.

    9. Compensation for damage caused by planning restrictions

Financial compensation is used to acquire land for public purposes such as roads and valuable nature areas. The public sector also can use its own land in exchange with private owners. As a main rule, the local authority pays compensation to the landowner for a public road or street area if the amount of land exceeds 20 per cent of the total area of the landowner. The local authority shall pay compensation to the landowner for all buildings, trees, plants and equipment in an area. When the local detailed plan or the local master plan designates land for a public purpose and the landowner cannot therefore use the area in a manner that generates reasonable economical benefit, the local authority or State is required to expropriate the property or pay compensation for the harm.

    10. Obligation to review enforced plans

The regional council must see to it that a regional plan is drawn up as needed and that it is kept up-to-date and developed. Concerning local plans, the local authority has the same responsibility.

    11. Everybodyís building right in rural areas

The right to private property such as land is secured by the Constitution. In the sparsely populated Nordic countries, everybodyís right has evolved over the centuries to become a legal right to move freely in the countryside, no matter who owns or occupies the land. The Act does not abolish the traditional right of landowners to build isolated buildings without a land use plan. However, if matters seem to be getting out of reasonable control, the Act gives the municipality the right to define the location in question as a planning requirement area. The parties will then negotiate to regulate development.

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