1. Statistical data

Area north-south distance east-west distance forest of the total territory mountain areas swamps and bogs agricultural areas
450 000 km2 1600 km 500 km 52 % 18% 11 % 8 %

Population density urban population rural
8 854 000 20 persons/km2 84% 16%

    2. Administrative organization

General role-division between state/county/local levels

Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government based on a one-chamber legislature. A majority of the Swedish Parliament approves the selection of a Prime Minister who forms a Cabinet (or Government). Members of this Cabinet head ten ministries, which formulate policy in their respective fields and supervise a larger number of agencies which are in charge of the implementation of the politics.

The system of Swedish government is divided into three administrative levels: the central state, the regional county, and the local municipality. The three levels contain both directly elected councils and administrative state units. In terms of the intermediate level of public administration, this consists of directly elected county councils (landstinget) and regional state authorities which perform tasks at the regional level.

In Sweden there is a highly decentralized policy with regional and local authorities being granted considerable autonomy e.g. impose tax on private income, although the national government provides the framework and structure for local government activities. The state sets out general policies to apply across the country, but also policies that may be spatially specific for particular topics such as infrastructure. Several ministries and national boards deal with matters concerning spatial planning, community development and the utilization of natural resources.

Ministries themselves are relatively small, but many may have a number of central government authorities, such as national boards, agencies and committees, attached to them.

The task of the governmental national agencies, within the field of planning and land management are – jointly with the county administrative boards – monitor the development of issues concerning the management of land, water and the physical environment in general. The agencies shall also provide the county administrative boards with basic data for the application of the regulations about national interests as specified in the Environmental Act.

Role division in planning administration


On the national level responsibility for the planning field lies within the Ministry of Environment, which main task is to carry out the Government’s priority tasks in the field of the environment.

The National Board of Housing, Building and Planning is the central government authority for urban environment work and the management of natural resources, physical planning, building and housing. The work of developing spatial planning methods with a view to sustainable development of urban and built-up areas is one of the agency’s main tasks.

Other State authorities that exercises important tasks in the field of land management are the National Land Survey, the National Environment Protection Board, the Central Office on National Antiquities, the Swedish National Road Administration, the Swedish National Board for Industrial and Technical Development.


To facilitate the administration of national government policies on the regional level, Sweden is divided into 21 counties, each headed by a Governor who is Cabinet appointee.

On the regional level state authorities are divided on the one hand into multipurpose county administrative boards (Länsstyrelsen) that are responsible for the regional activities of several authorities at the central level, and on the other hand, single purpose administrative bodies which are regional branches of central authorities. The latter often cover areas that are sometimes either larger or smaller than one county.

The County Administrative Board is the highest civil government administrative unit at regional level and comes directly under the national Government. It is responsible for the regional administration of a number of centrally provided services, while also having general responsibility for the overall activities of central government in the counties and ensuring that national objectives are met.

The County Administrative Board has also a number of important tasks in connection with planning, among other things it co-ordinates the national government county-based authorities and their interest in planning issues. It must ensure that national goals are implemented at the county level, and it has control and consultative functions in conjunction with regional and municipal planning. The County Administrative Board is also the first level of appeal for planning and development cases.

The County Administrative Board has a planning department which is responsible for spatial and community planning in general. A physical-planning unit within the department mainly deals with planning and building matters. The physical-planning unit provides advice and comments to the municipalities during the drafting of different types of plans.

The county is often contiguous with the district served by the regionally elected county council (Landsting), which is responsible for medical care, regional traffic and traffic planning and other matters too large in scope for individual municipalities. The county council imposes income tax and operates such public services as special schools, child and elder care, utilities, housing, and cultural and leisure activities. The county councils main responsibility is for health case.


Local government in Sweden is exercised by 289 municipalities which cover the entire

country. Until 1952 there were more than 2600 local governments, ranging from rural districts to the capital. These were merged into larger units in two stages in order to create viable units consisting of a municipal centre and a surrounding territory. Their responsibilities include zoning and city planning, much of the educational system, social welfare, childcare, fire protection, recreational and cultural amenities.

The municipalities cover urban settlements, towns and rural areas. The biggest town is the capital Stockholm with the population of 736 000 inhabitants, Göteborg is next with 460 000, then Malmö (255 000) and Uppsala (187 000). The population of other county centers is between 132 000 and 26.000 inhabitants.

In Sweden, there is in principle a municipal planning monopoly, i.e. the municipality has primarily the task to plan the use of land and water within a legal framework set and supervised by national Government. It is in the comprehensive plans that these intentions are set out.

The planning monopoly is granted, however, under certain restrictions. Although the Planning and Building Act gives the local authorities responsibility for using the land and water within its area, the municipalities must consider the interests of the State when making their plans.

Municipalities may also work together on land use, resource management and energy provision matters in which they have mutual concerns.

    3. Brief overview of planning legislation

Sweden has a long tradition of planning legislation. The first proper planning legislation, the National Building Statute, came as early as 1874. Since the defects of this legislation were many, a new Town Planning Act was adopted in 1907. But soon it was clear that also the TPA was deficient and further acts were adopted in 1917 and 1926. A new Town planning Act and Building Statute came into force 1931, although it was only a limited legislative innovation, in particular with regard to comprehensive planning.

It was not until 1947 that comprehensive planning acquired a more significant status and legal instruments with the new Building Act and Building Statute. The new legislation gave the municipalities right to decide when, where and how development was to take place. In practice, a municipal planning monopoly was established.

The old Building Statute was replaced with a new one 1959.

An important amendment to the planning legislation was introduced in 1972, which stated that new development should be suitably located. The previous rights of landowners regarding sparse development were abolished. At the same time, public responsibility to landowners was limited.

During the 1960’s planning begun to focus on how to protect valuable natural environment and outdoor recreation areas from polluting installations and industries. This work were to be consolidated in a Natural Resources Act (1987), providing for the first time an ecological and long-term approach to the use of land and water resources. The national physical planning were also to be, together with the demand for the public assessment of suitability of development location, a starting point for municipal land use plans and municipal guidelines.

In 1987 a new Planning and Building Act (1987) came into force, which were firmly linked to the Natural Resources Act. The main aims of the new legislation were decentralization, local adaptation, resource management, better plan implementation and simplification.

The PBA meant an important change for community planning. A strong devolution of planning and decision-making from the central to regional and above all, local municipalities was carried out. In principle, a municipal planning monopoly was established. From now on municipalities were to select the means and were to be responsible for implementation of planning, even if central authorities still have the right to formulate general objectives.

During the decade after the 1987 reform, environmental issues have continued to primarily influence the development of physical planning. The ambition has been to reinforce the task of planning in preventing the emergence of an energy- and resource-demanding spatial structure. The task of planning has thereby come to be transformed into working on appropriate structures for housing, green areas, transportation routes, and other facilities. This has implied a shift in interest from regulating the construction of new housing to managing the built environment in its context.

In the end of 1990’s the Government decided that physical planning should be an integrated part of an environmental policy. As a consequence, work on ecologically sustainable development has gather momentum.

With the Government’s Bill 1997/98:145, Environmental policy for a sustainable Sweden, a new structure for the elaboration and implementation of environmental goals was proposed. The Bill defined the environmental state that the Government intends to achieve in 15 new environmental quality goals.

These are as follows:

  • Clean air High-quality groundwater
  • Sustainable lakes and watercourses Flourishing wetlands
  • A balanced marine environment No eutrophication
  • Sustainable coastal areas and archipelagos Sustainable forests
  • Natural acidification only A magnificent mountain landscape
  • A varied agricultural landscape A non-toxic environment
  • A good urban environment A safe radiation environment
  • A protective ozone layer
  • Limited influence on climate change

These environmental quality goals indicate the environmental states that the Government and Parliament have decided must be achieved within one generation. It will be the task of the Government to fix targets that will facilitate achievement of the adopted goals. These targets will represent benchmarks for the definition of goals and strategies in various sectors and at various levels.

The national environmental quality goals will represent guidelines for spatial planning and the construction sector. Central and regional government agencies shall in the future coordinate their community planning across sector boundaries in order to promote ecologically sustainable development and a good living environment for all.

Municipalities and County Administrative Boards, on their part, shall collaborate in defining and monitoring, in a coordinated fashion and across sector boundaries, the national environmental quality goals in local and regional community planning.


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