1. Basic principles of the act and basic tasks of different plans

Basic principles

There are many laws that impinge on various aspects of physical planning in Sweden. The two most important are the Planning and Building Act and the Environmental Act.

The main aims of the Planning and Building Act, which give the municipalities greater independence, are decentralization, local adaptation, resource management, better plan implementation and simplification.

The Planning and Building Act is closely linked to the regulations in the Environmental Act that concerns the issues of natural resources management and contains regulations on when, and how, environmental impact assessments should be carried out. This finds expression in the Planning and Building regulation that the Environmental Act shall be taken into consideration when dealing with planning and in connection with the scrutiny of a building permit or tentative approval application. It is also stated in the Environmental Act that plans under the Planning and Building Act and planning documents relevant to the issue of natural resources management are available in the legal case or handling of application.

The Planning and Building Act (PBA) emphasizes that planning is a municipal matter, a strategic process covering the whole of the municipality’s area. Detailed development planning now focuses primarily on the implementation of individual projects. Central government’s role is advisory as well as providing the municipalities with information about national and other strategic issues that should be taken into account in their planning.

In this context, the role of the County Administrative Boards has become primarily to advise and to some extent monitor the application of the legislation, while the municipalities have acquired greater responsibility for its application and implementation. In principle the state can only take action against municipal plans if they are in conflict with specified national interests, if inter-municipal interests have not been coordinated, if an environmental quality standard has been violated, or if they entail danger for the health and safety of the population.

In terms of general objectives, a characteristic of the Planning and Building Act is that it sets out a series of general requirements to be observed in the planning and design of development. It states what standards should be achieved but apart from the reference to the regulations in the Environmental Act, it says nothing about where or when development or other changes in land use are to take place. This is because physical planning is a municipal responsibility and central government should not set up objectives for this activity – unless it is of national interest – but only define the framework within which a municipality can act.

The framework principles in PBA concerning physical planning are that development should be appropriate from the public’s viewpoint, and provide conditions for socially acceptable housing, working, recreational and traffic conditions today and for the future generations. Not only should conditions in neighboring municipalities be taken into consideration but also the regulations in the Environmental Act.

According to the PBA development shall be located and sited in such a way that does not jeopardize the health of residents and others and with regard to local soil and ground water conditions, the opportunities for the provision of traffic, water, sewerage, energy and other services and of preventing water, air and noise pollution. Further, the built environment should be designed with regard to protection from fire and its spread, from traffic accidents and include civil defense considerations, the conservation of energy and water, the provision of good climatic and hygienic conditions, the creation of good traffic environment and that the needs of the disabled are taken into consideration.

The public has considerable opportunity to review and comment on plans. The Planning and Building Act requires that the public be informed and consulted as part of the planning and approval process. Notices are placed in the local press, and public exhibitions are required.

Types of plans and regulations

The planning and building law does not constitute the obligation of national plan production. However, there are at the national level policy statements, which provides guidance and are legally binding in relation to areas of national significance. An example is the former National Resources Act, now amalgamated in the Environmental Act.

The comprehensive plan aims to deal with long-term, strategic questions regarding land use and development and shall nearest to be of a programmatic and guiding character. The plan shall give the main points concerning use of land and water areas and the municipality’s views concerning how the built environment is to be developed and preserved. The comprehensive plan shall also be the instrument that is used to show how the municipality intends to meet public interests and take care of environmental quality standards.

Regional plans enable several municipalities to coordinate their planning in larger areas. They are optional and have not been frequently used.

The detailed development plan has in principle two aims: 1) to regulate changes in land use and the development; 2) to regulate more durable preservation of buildings and building sites and regulate conditions for renewal and rebuilding of existing built-up areas. In both cases it is about to specify rights and duties in order to achieve in environmental terms a good overall effect and a suitable development of the society.

Area regulations can be used in order to safeguard in certain specific respects the comprehensive plan goals or public interests. Area regulations are contrary to the detailed development plan no independent instrument, but above all complementary to the comprehensive plan.

Property plan is used to facilitate implementation of the detailed development plan.

The control of land use and of development within a municipality takes place through regulatory instruments, such as detailed development plan (or area regulation). The regulatory instruments are used with site-specific allocations or zoning to regulate development, building and land use. Coverage of regulatory instruments is limited to those locations where they are required to facilitate or directly implement development.

The planning system is not hierarchic – a detailed development plan can conflict with the comprehensive plan. However, area regulations must be in accordance with the comprehensive plan.

National plan

Sweden has at the national level no overall physical plan for the development of the territory of the state that is prepared for the entire territory of the state. However, there are at the national level policy statements, which provide a foundation and general direction for plan making and regulation at lower levels. This varies from a broad development perspective to general policy statements on particular topics.

In Sweden a so-called national planning exercise took place in the 1970s, primarily as a result of fears that major industrial companies would exploit too much coastal area. In the beginning, most emphasis was placed on mapping out the coastal stretches that should be preserved. As the work proceeded, the program expanded to include other areas that should be protected with regard to environmental conservation, recreation or their special rural or cultural value. The question of which rivers and other aquatic areas should be protected form development was also debated. The project resulted, among other things, in map over the county where areas in need of protection were marked. General guidelines were also issued on how to deal with maintenance and requests for exploitation, which later have been partly included into a Natural Recources Act.

The former Natural Resources Act (NRA) – now amalgamated in the Environmental Act (Sections 3 and 4) – is an example of such a policy statement on the national level, which provides spatial guidance, mostly in relation to areas of national significance. The former NRA Act contained, amongst others, overall regulations on how public interests are to be taken into account when government authorities and municipalities deal with cases where there are conflicting interests concerning land and water use.

The regulations in Sections 3 and 4 of the Environmental Act are of two kinds. The first group consists of the land use management considerations, which should be taken into account in decisions on land and water under the Planning and Building Act and other legislation.

These national interests are delineated by a number of National Boards in cooperation with the County administrative boards as planning prerequisites for the municipalities.

The second group of regulations covers specific geographical areas, mainly coastal and mountain areas and rivers of national significance because of their natural and cultural values. Specific guidelines of general planning regulations for land use in these areas are given.

Both groups of guidelines are to guide the plans drawn up by the municipalities in accordance with the Planning and Building Act.

Comprehensive plan

Each municipality shall draft an up-to-date comprehensive plan covering the whole of the municipality’s area. The municipal plan shall note the public interests as well as environmental and health risk factors to consider when deciding upon the use of land and water areas. Especially the national interests according to the Environmental Act should be notified.

The plan shall indicate:

  • the main points concerning the intended use of land and water areas
  • the municipality’s view concerning how the built environment is to be developed and preserved, and
  • how the municipality intends to take national interests in consideration and observe actual environmental quality standards

The significance and consequences of the comprehensive plan should be explained in such a way that they can be understood without difficulty.

Although the comprehensive plan is not binding on authority or individuals, it is guiding for more detailed municipal planning as well as for planning and decisions by agencies concerning the management of land and water resources. Furthermore it is also an agreement how national values can be considered between state and municipality.

Because the plan represents foundation for decisions, an activity program and an agreement, is it necessary that it are held up-to-date.

For the municipalities to implement the broad development objectives expressed in comprehensive plans, it is necessary to use regulatory instruments as detailed development plans or area regulations, which both are legally binding. The latter form of planning instrument is used within defined areas of the comprehensive plan to secure compliance with certain plan goals.

The comprehensive plan presents the background, current trends, and maintenance of the built environment. It further comprises descriptive text, setting out the planning assumptions, rationale for its formulation, and the measures that the municipalities intend to take to implement the plan. The text is supplemented with supporting material and map. Accompanying the plan is the County Administrative Board review statement. The statement is done concerning:

  • protection of public interests
  • environmental quality goals
  • inter-municipal issues
  • health on security matters

Regional plan

The (inter-municipal) Regional plan’s purpose is to co-ordinate issues affecting more than one municipality. The regional plan can, where it is of importance to the region as a whole or for parts of it, suggest principles for the use of land and water areas as well as guidelines for the location of development and civil engineering works.

The regional plan is not legally binding, but shall serve as a basis for decisions concerning comprehensive plans, detailed development plans and area regulations.

The Government can appoint a regional planning body if matters concerning the use of land and water areas in several municipalities require joint study or if the work on comprehensive plans needs coordination. That body will be, for either a limited period or until further notice, responsible for regional planning.

The Government may also appoint an existing municipal federation as a regional planning body or determine that the municipalities affected shall establish a special regional planning federation. This possibility according to PBA has hitherto not been used in Sweden.

Special regulations cover the regional planning of municipalities in the County of Stockholm.

When the first draft of a regional plan is produced, or amendments to or annulment of a plan are proposed, the same regulations concerning consultation, exhibition, notification, scrutiny documents and statements shall apply as with the comprehensive plan. Except that the exhibition period shall be at least three months.

The council of the municipal federation or the regional plan federation adopts the regional plan whichever is the regional planning body. That council also decides amendments to and annulment of the plan.

Planning obligation

Every municipality must have a comprehensive plan. As of today the due date for plans to be produced has not been determined yet. The law requires, however, that each municipality must have an up-to-date comprehensive plan. In order to fulfill that the municipality council is obliged at least once during their term of office take stand to the comprehensive plan up-to-date ness (every fourth year).

The need for production of the comprehensive plan is identified and the relevant task given by the municipal Council. Local government organizes and finances production of the plan, which in practice means that the municipality does it with its own staff or orders it from a consultant.


When a first draft of a comprehensive plan, or revisions to it are made, the municipality shall consult the County administrative board as well as any other municipality that may be affected by the plan. Other authorities as well as associations and individuals having a considerable interest in the proposals contained in the plan shall also be given an opportunity to participate in the consultations.

The purpose of the consultation is to improve the basic data decisions are based on, as well as to provide insight and influence. During consultation, the reasons for the proposals, important planning data supporting them and the impact of the proposal shall be explained.

During consultation, the County Administrative Board shall in particular take into consideration and coordinate national interests and in that connection shall:

  • provide data for municipal evaluations and give advice in matters concerning national interests in accordance with general interests and also the environmental and risk factors that should be considered in decisions about the use of land and water areas
  • work to satisfy the national interests and the environmental quality standards as specified in the Environmental Act
  • suitably coordinate issues concerning the use of land and water areas affecting two or more municipalities

The results of consultations, and the amendments, which arise as a result of the views expressed, shall be presented in a separate consultation report.

Public participation

Before the municipality can adopt a comprehensive plan it shall exhibit the proposals to the public during a period of at least two months. After the public inspection the municipality shall assemble all the comments received and present its subsequent proposals in a statement which shall accompany the documents referring to this matter. The municipal council shall adopt the plan.


After the municipality has introduced amendments and revisions proceeding from proposals made at public exhibition and discussion, the comprehensive plan is submitted for supervision to the County Administrative Board. In principle the State can only take action against the municipal plans if they are in conflict with specified national interests, if the proposal can lead to that a environmental standard will not be attained, if inter-municipal interests have not been coordinated or if they entail danger for the health and safety of the population.

Before a decision is made the County Administrative Board must give its views regarding national interests that may be of importance to the municipality’s decision as well as describe how the County Administrative Board’s views relate to the comprehensive plan.

Plans that have been through the supervision phase but have not been adopted have no legal power.


The municipal council shall adopt a municipal comprehensive plan, or amendments to it. A decision to adopt or amend a municipal comprehensive plan becomes valid when the decision has gained legal force.

Validity of plans

Comprehensive plans must be up-to-date. The municipal council shall, at least once during its term of office, consider whether the comprehensive plan is still up-to-date.

Legal impact

The comprehensive plan is not legally binding, although it serves as guidance for the preparation of more detailed plans and the regulation of development.

In such areas where it is necessary to have legally binding regulations in order to safeguard the comprehensive plan it is possible to adopt area regulations.

Detailed development plan

The examination of a site’s suitability for development and the control of the design of the built environment are carried out in a detailed development plan for:

  • new continuous development
  • new individual buildings, the use of which will have a significant impact on surroundings or which are to be located in an area where considerable demand exists for building sites, or where examination of the proposed building cannot be carried out in connection with the scrutiny of a building permit or tentative approval application
  • development which is going to be altered or preserved if comprehensive control is required

A development plan adopted by the municipality is required before urban development may take place. However, if sufficient planning control exists in the form of area regulations a detailed development plan does not need to be drafted.

A detailed development plan shall be based on a program indicating the starting point and objectives of the plan, if this is essential.

The development plan confers building rights on landowner for a specific purpose and extent at the location set out in the plan. The plan provides regulation concerning the size and height of buildings, the purpose for which they may be used, the land intended for parks, roads, water and sewerage mains, etc.

The plan may also present the conditions that apply, such as the scope of building permissions required, the design and use of buildings, various facilities, and the specific limits of certain types of disturbances. The description shall include illustrations unless this is obviously unnecessary.

The detailed development plan must present its assumptions, its goals, and its rationale. The divisions of land into particular land use categories and identification of what conditions applies in those various areas must be done in map form.

The detailed development plan involves the right to develop in accordance with the plan’s regulations, although this right is restricted over time. It is also legally binding with regard to permit applications.

The detailed development plan shall contain a time limit for development. The duration of the building rights is restricted to a period of between 5 and 15 years, as specified in the plan. This limit shall be determined in such a way that there is a reasonable chance of the plan’s implementation taking place within the stipulated time. Different time limits can be stipulated for different areas within the plan. When the time limit expires, the detailed development plan will continue to be valid until it is amended or annulled.

If the municipality refuses permission to build in accordance with a development plan during the implementation period, or changes the plan during that period, the landowner is entitled to claim compensation for the economic damage. However, after the time-limit has expired no claims can be made by the landowner. The development plan entitles the municipality to purchase land needed for streets and other public requirements.

Public participation

When the first draft of a detailed development plan has been produced, the municipality shall consult the County Administrative Board, the property registration authority and the municipalities affected by the proposals. The parties concerned and the members of cooperative housing associations, tenants and residents affected by the proposals as well as those public bodies, associations and other private individuals who have more than a passing interest in the proposals, shall be provided with an opportunity to be consulted.

The purpose of consultation is the exchange of information and views. During consultation, the municipality should present relevant spatial planning data of importance as well as explain the proposals’ most important consequences, If there is a program or an environmental impact analysis for the plan, these shall also be presented. Consultations concerning the detailed development plan shall also include the presentation of reasons for the plan.

Those directly affected by a detailed development plan, special area regulations or permit decisions have the right to comment on the issues and to appeal against the decision. All property owners whose property is specifically affected must also be contacted by mail. The public may submit written comments. The County authorities monitor the way in which the municipality manages both the publicity and the response.

During consultation the County Administrative Board shall give particular attention to:

  • giving advice on the application of and ensuring that national interest in accordance with the Environmental Act are taken into consideration
  • ensuring that matters concerning the use of land and water areas which affect two or more municipalities are coordinated in an appropriate manner
  • ensuring that environmental quality standards are not violated
  • ensuring that national interests are safeguarded

Views, which have been put forward in consultation as well as the comment of the proposals made as result of these views, shall be assembled and presented in a joint consultation document.

Before a detailed development plan is adopted, the municipality shall publicly exhibit the planning proposals for a period of at least three weeks. Anyone wishing to make representations about the proposals shall do this in writing during the exhibition period.


The County Administrative Board shall scrutinize a municipality’s decision to adopt, amend or annul a detailed development plan (or area regulation), if there is a risk that the decision involves that national interests are not considered, inter-municipal interests are not satisfied, an environmental quality standard is violated or that public health and safety are jeopardized.

The County Administrative Board shall annul a municipality’s decision in its entirety if any of the above mentioned situations has arisen. If the municipality has agreed to it, the decision may be annulled in part.

Plans that have been through the supervision phase but have not been adopted have no legal power.


The decision to adopt, amend or annul a detailed development plan (or an area regulation) is made by the municipal council.

The right to appeal against a decision to adopt, amend or annul a detailed development plan is only given to those, who before the end of the publicity period, have made written representations which have not been taken into consideration. Through the County administrative board the matter is finally settled by the national Government.

Legal impact

The detailed development plan is legally binding for both authorities and individuals.

The real estate owners have during the time limit of the plan a guaranteed building permit in accordance with the plan. When the time limit for development has elapsed, the plan may be amended or annulled without regard to the development rights, which might have accrued during the plan’s existence.


Propriety owners can demand compensation of damage caused by restrictions inflicted by detailed development plans and area regulations. The responsibility for compensation is incumbent upon who has caused the damage. The compensation can come from the municipality or a central state authority.

The owner or holder of special rights to propriety is entitled to compensation from the municipality if damage has occurred as a result of among other things:

  • If a detailed development plan is amended or annulled before the implementation period has been elapsed
  • If the costs of streets have been paid in accordance with older regulations and the owner of the property is not able to use the property as envisaged because a building permit has been refused
  • If protective regulations has been given for buildings in detailed development plans or area regulations
  • If regulations about vegetation, site design or height has been given within area regulations
  • If demolition permit is being prohibited under the detailed development plan or area regulations
  • If a building permit is being refused for the replacement of a demolished or accidentally destroyed building with a basically similar one

Expropriation is subject to the Expropriation Act, it can only be applied in cases listed in the Act. In cases of expropriation the compensation rate is that of the market value.

Area regulation

For defined areas of a municipality not covered by a detailed development plan, area regulations may be adopted if they are required to achieve the purpose of the comprehensive plan or to ensure the safeguarding of national interests. Area regulations do not involve the right to develop.

In contrast to detailed development plans, area regulations do not entail total control of the area’s land and water use, but address only those aspects specified in the regulations, i.e.

  • to what extent measures require permission in accordance with decisions on the extent of a building, plan implementation, regional planning and construction work, inspection and control
  • the main features of the use of land and water areas for development or for leisure facilities, transportation routes and other comparable land uses
  • the maximum permitted building coverage or usable floor area of holiday cottages and the size of plots for such cottages
  • the siting, design and construction of buildings, other installations or sites including the regulations concerning buildings, as well as regulations carried out according to the regulations on the Technical Qualities of Buildings
  • the use and design of public open spaces, including protective regulations for places of particular value from a historical, cultural, environmental or architectural point of view
  • vegetation and the design and height of land
  • protective arrangements to prevent disturbance from surroundings
  • joint development

Area regulations become legally binding when the municipal council adopts them, and they are valid until they are annulled or changed.

The need and rationale for area regulations must be presented.

Property regulation plan

A property regulation plan may be may be attached to the detailed development plan in order to facilitate the implementation of it. Property regulation plans can also be drafted at a later stage, if this is necessary to solve conflicts.

The property regulation plans address the subdivision of land, the provision of certain common facilities where land-ownership conditions are complex and where property owners cannot be expected to reach a solution on their own. They are drafted, amended and annulled according to the same rules as detailed development plans except that the consultation procedure is simpler since only property-owners in the area are involved.

The property regulation plan is only valid when a decision to adopt a detailed development plan has gained legal force.

If a detailed development plan is amended and this results in conflicting with the property regulation plan, then the property regulation plan will cease to be valid for those areas where it conflicts with the detailed development plan. If a detailed development plan is wholly or partially annulled, the property regulation plan will equally cease to be valid for the same area.

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

An environmental impact assessment in accordance with the Environmental Act shall be drafted if the detailed development plan permits the use of land, buildings or other installations that have a considerable impact on the environment, public health or the management of natural resources. It should be explained in such a way that the plan can be understood without difficulty.

    3. Everybody’s building right in rural areas

According to the Planning and Building Act ownership of land does not give an unconditional right to develop land area. Development land shall be located on land that is suitable. To use land for development it is required that it is from public view suited for it. The inquiry of suitability is made during the planning or concerning matters of building permit or permit in accordance. However, the municipality may, in the Area regulations, decide that a building permit is not required in specific respects. Within a cluster of dwellings, permission is required from the neighbors affected if measures are to be carried out without building permit.


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