On behalf of Committee on Spatial Development in the Baltic Sea region (CSD/BSR) members I am pleased to welcome you to the web site Compendium of Spatial Planning Systems in the Baltic Sea region. Our site will help you to learn more about spatial planning systems in 11 Baltic Sea countries, providing on-line access to the national planning policy documents, laws and regulations.

Our web site also presents People active in the field of Baltic Sea region spatial planning systems and legislation:  CSD/BSR members, members of the team preparing the Baltic Sea region spatial planning compendium, consultants involved in the Project and other visionary projects co-ordinators and creators.
The web site is aimed to facilitate dialogue and close network of Baltic Sea region authorities and experts, promote further exchange of knowledge and opinions on the spatial planning issues especially of transition countries.

Here you can also find Links to the main important visionary documents like VASAB 2010+, Vision Planet, ESDP, CEMAT, UN/CSD, and some others.

We are grateful to all people and organisations involved in the preparation of the compendium.

Terje Lind,
Chairman of the Committee on Spatial Development in the Baltic Sea region
October, 2000


     The idea to produce a survey comparing the planning systems of the VASAB countries was first born soon after the VASAB Ministerial Conference in Tallinn. This was the time when the majority of the post-socialist VASAB countries were still in the process of creating their planning legislation. It was also known then that our colleagues from countries with long-lived democratic tradition were intending to amend their respective laws. Examination of the planning systems on a comparative basis was to deliver information on the laws and regulations valid in the VASAB countries and provide access to best practices and ideas with potential benefit to those preparing, amending and complementing their legal acts.

     For a variety of reasons initiation of the work was delayed. The project called “Compendium of Spatial Planning Systems in the Baltic Sea Region” got under way in the autumn of 1999. In the beginning of the process it was agreed that each country representative would prepare an article describing the respective national planning legislation and provide the basic data for compilation of the tables at the end of the Compendium. My task was to propose the initial standpoints for the project, to unify the articles submitted and to put together the summarising tables. The principles of project implementation were agreed upon at the joint workshops of participating countries.

     On the basis of the articles and tables of the Compendium it may be assumed that the planning laws of the VASAB countries proceed from similar general principles in the main, be it the structure of the planning system, rules for communication with the general public, essential tasks of plans or the legal impact of plans. Despite of the similar overall principles, the laws have strong individual distinctions, however. These distinctions are created by different factors – traditions in land use and building in countries, their legislative practices, natural and geographical conditions, settlement patterns and density, build-up of public administration, etc. Considering the above factors, it is only natural that the Danish planning law differs notably from the relevant laws in the other Nordic countries – the relatively uniform and dense settlement in Denmark requires regulations unlike the other Nordic countries stretching vast distances from north to south and being inhabited extremely unevenly under the strongly varying natural conditions. Varying conditions indicate that the task of different national legal acts regulating the same field is to deal with diverse aspects and combinations of factors.

     Likewise do vary administrative systems. There are two federal states among the VASAB countries – Germany and Russia. While in Germany the federation has evolved into a clear structure with times, the set-up of the public structures in Russia is still in the process of development. In addition to the overall national laws, the subjects of the German Federation and Russian Federation proceed from their own laws or/and regulations which for example in the individual states (laender) of Germany could be rather different. It needs to be reminded here that the Compendium addresses only the national laws.

     The rest of the countries are unitary states. Two VASAB countries among them – Poland and Belarus – have one more administrative level between the state and the county, oblast in Belarus and wojewodztwo in Poland, known also as province in Europe. Finland, on the contrary, has an additional level between the county (lääni) and local self-government performing limited functions – regional council (maakuntaliitto). This is a legally binding co-operation form for self-governments which can also be called association of self-governments and which the law has prescribed specific tasks for, including preparation of regional plans. The Finnish county has no planning obligations at that. In Finland, Lithuania and Estonia there is no regional self-government, in these countries the county administration is a regional branch of state government. In the other VASAB countries regional self-government exists, in some of them in parallel to the state administration on the county level.

     Interaction of the above factors makes the planning laws of the VASAB countries very different in scope and detailed content. For example, the Danish and Estonian planning laws are quite small in volume while the German law is very bulky, containing a number of specific regulations. In several countries the government enforces supplementary regulations in addition to the law.

     Regarding content, the differences between national planning laws are the smallest maybe in national planning and county/regional planning. Sweden is an exception here, being the only country where national planning is not included in the law and where regional plans do not get prepared, although the law regulates regional planning. However, this has not been an obstacle for Sweden to produce the national planning document Sweden 2009. Prior to that Sweden got one of the first national planning works in Europe, later grown into Natural Resources Act – one of the first laws in the world focussing on environmental aspects as an essential criterion of development. The fact that local governments are very big in Sweden in population as well as by territory – bigger than an average Estonian county, may also explain the missing regional planning.

     Lithuanian planning law is different from other laws in some aspects. There are four levels of planning - national, regional and local level and the level of private/legal entities. On the national, regional and local level there are two types of plans - comprehensive plans and special plans. On the local level the third type of plans - detailed plans are added. Private entities have the right to prepare and finance detailed plans. The tasks of comprehensive plans prepared at different administrative levels are not diiferencated in the law, the variations in the degree of detail/generalisation in the plans of different levels are relatively smaller than in other VASAB countries. The objectives of Lithuanian local detailed plans or/and special plans include in some certain cases land and forest consolidation tasks among other. It is the only VASAB country where regional comprehensive plans are approved/enforced by the national Government (regional special plans are approved by regional government). Aspects related to Lithuanian planning system required explanation here as the nature of the system is not revealed clearly enough in the text and particularly in the summarizing tables reflecting a slightly different system and therefore causing the characteristics of Lithuania to have been “squeezed in” there.

     Divergence in national planning acts becomes more distinct with comprehensive and local plans. For example, in Sweden comprehensive plans have no legal impact whatsoever neither in rural nor in urban areas. However, in Latvia and Estonia for example, a comprehensive plan in rural areas may prescribe restrictions to entities as well as binding land use and building requirements. The hierarchy of the planning system varies to a certain extent by individual VASAB countries. Subordination of a more detailed plan to a more general one is strongly fixed in some of them while in Sweden, for example, the requirement to observe comprehensive plan in preparation of a detailed plan is rather lax. To balance the hierarchy, the majority of countries allow modifications of a more general plan through more detailed plans. This adds flexibility to the planning system, makes it respond faster to changing needs and more interactive in character.

     In relation to detailed plans, attitudes towards municipal planning monopoly are diverse in VASAB countries. The countries where a plan can be prepared only by the local government constitute a narrow minority. The countries in majority are the ones where a plan can be financed and/or prepared also by real property owners or interested parties – Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland. It must be mentioned here that independent of who is preparing a plan, it is the local government that makes decisions and arranges all public procedures as a rule. Giving owners/interested parties the right to prepare/finance detailed plans has been partly caused in the post-socialist countries by the aspiration to support private initiative, partly by scarce means of local governments to finance detailed planning and sustain the necessary staff. At the same time there is a lot of talk everywhere in the world about transfer of some public functions to the private sector – maybe the above would be a daring step in that direction, particularly in countries where missing long-lived self-governing traditions pose no constraint. By using this regulation, local governments are giving away part of their planning monopoly and investors sometimes get too strong a position in the planning process. It is sometimes dangerous for a harmonious development of towns in the preconditions where democratic traditions are weak and public control by public participation is not functioning sufficiently. On the other hand, such a regulation is inevitable in the situation where local governments do not have enough capacity to prepare detailed plans. The only solution here is promotion of more professionally functioning municipalities. A good example of how to keep the planning process under public control in case an interested party has bigger rights in preparation of a detailed plan can be found in the Norwegian and Latvian law – requirements put to public participation are more severe here.

     An important distinction concerning the laws regulating the planning field in VASAB countries is whether these are separate laws for planning only or there is a law dealing with both, planning and building. Separate planning laws are in the majority of post-socialist countries and in Denmark. In the latter case regulation of planning with an individual legal act has been a long-lasting tradition. Judging by the experience gained within the five years the law has been in force in Estonia, it seems that under the circumstances when European planning and building culture and law obedience are barely emerging, covering planning, building design and construction itself with one and the same law was the right thing to do. In Estonia the biggest problems are encountered in the functioning of the chain of activities beginning with local comprehensive planning and through detailed planning, building design and construction ending with the finished building. With better wording and understanding as well as more successful implementation of the legal provisions regulating this chain of activities and at the same time regulating the activity of local governments, the common law grants certain advantages under the given conditions. It could be different in other countries, depending on the local situation.

     Public participation in the planning process is regulated somewhat differently in different countries. However, the most essential core principle of European planning culture – planning is an agreement, forms the basis of all the national laws. The level of involvement of the general public in the process of plan preparation is varying by country. The societies that have only recently rid themselves of the soviet regime have got a lot of “tricks” to learn here from colleagues with lasting democratic planning experience. Differences can be found also in the obligation of concert/co-ordination and supervision of plans. Most important with concert and supervision is, however, the use of these instruments and the attitude that has been developed towards these. In case concert and supervision are approached as a means of command in relation to the local government (or county government in county planning), the attitudes and practical impact are reflective of that; in case the approach is first and foremost as to one (true enough – mandatory) option of co-operation and information exchange, the attitude is different. In Estonia, for example, concert/co-ordination and supervision of both county and comprehensive plans is mandatory. The law does not directly prescribe the requirement for county plans to have concert of relevant ministries, but equips the Ministry of Environment as the supervising ministry with the possibility to set this requirement. The possibility was used and the benefit was mutual – the ministries acquired knowledge about what was outlined in county plans, the county government received information useful in plan preparation; in addition a relationship of on-going co-operation was built.

     It is not the task of this introduction to present an extensive comparative analysis of the planning systems of the VASAB countries - this should rather be left for a research paper to tackle. Detailed analysis can easily be interpreted for assessment of the planning legislation of different countries that I would like to avoid. The information presented in the Compendium is quite detailed, so everybody can draw personal conclusions. The performance of the planning field can be understood better through Chapter III, added in the final preparation phase of the Compendium and providing a brief overview of planning practices and the associated experiences and problems. Each article contains the contact data of the author of the contribution that should secure easy access to additional information upon necessity.

     The Compendium will be available at the web site of the Leontieff Centre in St. Petersburg later in the year, and be complemented with examples of planning cases from all the countries.

     In the beginning I recalled the genesis of the Compendium. Looking back now, it seems even suitable that the project was not launched 3-4 years ago. Today all the VASAB countries have produced their respective laws to regulate planning, there exists also a short- or long-lived experience in their implementation. Our position compared with the EU colleagues has become more equal since, we actually have what to compare in theory and in practice. The benefit of the work today is certainly not less than it would have been a few years ago when some countries were still in the process of preparing their laws. On the contrary maybe – new legal acts with no influence of tradition could offer some intriguing and novel solutions also for our EU colleagues. We are all well aware that amendment, complementing and modification of laws is a continuous process. I would very much like to hope that the Compendium has beneficial and interesting information to offer for those doing the amending job in the future.

     It also became very clear in the course of the Compendium work that the world around us has changed considerably within these past few years. The majority of communication was done via e-mail. When the idea of the Compendium first surfaced this was not a universally available communication means for all of us. Thanks to the development of information technology the world has become even smaller. This calls for changes also in planning. Development of information technology will bring along adjustment in transport, availability of services, job options, daily communication, demands on living places and quality of the environment, etc., which in turn can influence more deeply and in a different way changes in spatial development and relevant legal acts. Recent years have proven the increasing role of cross-border planning projects in solving spatial development problems, be it on the local, regional or national level. Co-operation is built on good understanding of your partner’s traditions, working methods and also legal acts. It is my expectation that the Compendium will contribute to mutual understanding and collaboration of planners in the Baltic Sea region. Should this be the case, the toil of all the participants in the work will find fair appreciation.

     In conclusion I would sincerely like to thank all the colleagues involved in the Compendium work for the most pleasant and hopefully rewarding joint effort.

Jüri Lass
Initiator and advocate of the Compendium
March 31, 2000


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