1. Statistical data

Area north-south distance east-west distance forest of the total territory mountain areas swamps and bogs arable land
312 000 km2 700 km 700 km 28 % 3% 3 % 45 %

Population density urban population rural
39 million 125 people/km2 62% 38%

    2. Administrative organisation

Poland is a parliamentary republic of unitary territorial organisation (i.e. non-federal) and growing role of self-governments. There are self-governmental authorities on the regional, county and local levels of public administration. But all the legislative powers and still a substantial part of executive power is bound to the central institutions of the state.

Levels of administrative organisation and general division of roles in planning, according to the Acts of Parliament :


The governmental agency which is responsible for general coordination and standardization of physical planning in Poland is the Housing and Urban Development Office (H&UD). , However, responsibility for the national physical (or spatial) development policy and other kinds of planning at this level lies in the Government Centre for Strategic Studies (GCSS).

Another planning-related authority on the central level is the Ministry of Environment (MoE), responsible for so called “protection plans”, prepared for the National and Landscape (regional) Parks. Those plans however, do not belong to the category of spatial plans in the sense of the Physical Development Act. As far the environmental issues of the actual spatial plans are concerned, MoE has some guiding and control tasks.


There are 16 regions in Poland, with the population ranging from 1 to 5 million and the area from 10 000 to 35 000 km2. The average population is 2.416 million and the average area - 19 500 km2.

Regional self-government comprises the Regional Assembly (Parliament), called Seymik and the Board of the Region (executive body), headed by the Marshal of Voivodeship. The regional self-government has full responsibility for strategic (comprehensive, socio-economic) and spatial (physical) planning at this level of the administrative division of the country.

At the same level, the State exercises its control functions (restricted mainly to public safety, building, environmental and health standards, general conformity of laws), through the regional representatives of the central government (called Voievodes).

The regional body responsible for planning is the Marshal's Office and its Department of Strategy and Development. Other institutions involved in the formulation of regional plans and their implementation and monitoring are of more or less independent character. They include public institutions like regional development agencies, non-governmental organisations, foundations or even private institutes.


There are 373 counties (poviats) in Poland, including 68 cities with the power of independent municipal counties. The average population of a country is 103 000 and the area is 836,4 km2. Most of the municipal counties are cities with more than 100 000 people.

The role of counties in public administration is intermediate, rather auxiliary, with no specific planning responsibilities.

The county has generally a self-governmental character, but at the same time it performs specific tasks commissioned by the State (central government).


The basic, traditional self-governmental entities, called gmina (commune), comprise urban communes (towns, cities), urban-rural communes and rural communes. The average population is 15 000 and the area 125 km2. There are altogether 2489 such entities, of very different size and social, economic and environmental features. Apart from these differences, all communes have the same quite substantial responsibilities in development and physical planning. Unfortunately, their enforcement potential is rather weak, with the exception of the 68 cities which at the same time posses the status of municipal counties.

    3. Brief overview of planning legislation

The first Building Act in Poland, comprising the regulation of urban planning, was passed by the Parliament already in 1928. In contemporary Poland it is the Constitution that lays down the principles of sustainability and self-governance as the fundamentals for the policy of spatial development. Most of the planning and policy-forming activities in Poland are performed at the local and regional level by self-governmental institutions and this is why the Local Self-government and Regional Self-government Acts must be taken into consideration as the source of procedural regulation. Basic regulation for the field in question, however, is provided by the Spatial (or Physical) Development Act of 1994 (enforced on 1.1.1995). This law has substituted previous regulations issued in 1961 and 1984. There are other important Acts of Parliament which impose certain tasks and obligations on spatial planning actors, and thus, cause planning, building and environmental protection to be regulated by completely different acts:

  • the Environment Protection and Management Act (serving as the framework for many detailed material law regulations, e.g. concerned with forests, water or waste management, protection of nature or arable land),
  • the Building Code (in relation to construction and engineering activities),
  • the Law on Real Property Management.

Of rather minor importance, limited to specific functional areas, are the acts regulating protection of cultural assets, sea administration and coastal management, construction and maintenance of roads and railway lines, etc.

This year (2000), substantial amendments to the Physical Development Act and the Environment Protection and Management Act are expected (the drafts have reached the Parliamentary Commission already).

Structure of Spatial (Physical) Development Act (of 1994) by chapters:

1. General Regulations
2. Local physical development plan

  • the study of the preconditions and directions for the physical development of the commune
  • the status and scope of the local physical development plan
  • the procedure of elaborating and adopting the local physical development plan
  • the principles of public participation in the plan production, and of objecting the plan and seeking agreement, especially in conflicting situations
  • the principles of amending the plan
3. Legal consequences of adoption by resolution of the local physical development plan, i.e. the principles of compensation of resulting from the plan effects
4. Establishing conditions for building and land development - planning permission
5. Town planning license
6. Shaping and implementing physical development policies of the State and regions

  • development strategies, physical development plans and public programmes of the region
  • national policy of spatial (physical) development and governmental programmes
  • principles of negotiating conditions of introducing regional and governmental programmes into the physical development plans

    7. Transitional and Final Provisions


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