Poland: Urban Planning & Real Estate Development - Formality Or Deal Breaker?


Under the communist regime in Po-land, acts on urban planning were formally in force, but in practice the authorities did not attach any importance to them. Construction works were adapted to the needs of the socialist society and huge districts of blocks of flats and industrial plants were built in large quantities without deeper consideration about their location. Some changes have occurred along with the political transformation of 1989, when aesthetic and functional characteristics of public space began to be perceived as important elements.

Just after the transformation, in 1994 the Act on urban planning was enacted in order to adapt previous communist regulations to the reality of a country developing in the new political system. Currently, issues related to urban planning are regulated in the Act on urban planning and spatial development of 2003.

Urban planning in Poland is organized on several levels: national, voivodship, county but it is municipal level that has the greatest significance, as it usually forms the basis for decisions in individual cases. One of the most important task of the municipality in this area is the adoption of a study of conditions and directions of spatial development, as well as a local spatial development plan.

The study of conditions and directions of spatial development is a systematized inventory of the existing spatial development of the municipality, combined with the overall concept of its transformation. It is created for the entire municipal area. The study is not a universally binding act but only an internal document of the municipality. However, it remains the basis in the process of creation of a local spatial development plan. No investment not included in the study can be activated without a formal change of that document. The adoption of the study usually takes more than a year.

Basically the study consists of:

  • a diagnosis of the current socio-economic situation and the conditions of its development,
  • definition of further urban planning policy and the basic rules of actions adopted by the municipality.

A local spatial development plan (or a local zoning plan) is the basic planning tool in Poland. It establishes in a binding way the mode of using the land, location of investment of public purpose, specifies the ways of urban planning and development conditions. It is a universally binding act that must be observed by both individuals and public authorities. It is enacted by the municipal council after having completed the procedure provided for by the planning act. The municipal council is free to decide whether to commence the adoption of the plan and which area it is to cover. There is no requirements for the plan to cover the entire area of the municipality; it can cover some smaller parts as well.

The plan is drawn up by the mayor of the municipality on the basis of the study of conditions and directions of spatial development. Subsequently the project is presented in public for the free insight and the individuals interested in particular provisions are able to submit their comments. The mayor considers comments submitted within the prescribed period of 21 days. Eventually, the local spatial development plan is enacted by the municipal council and published on the municipality website. Everybody is entitled to inspect the study or the plan, as well as to receive excerpts and map extracts of them. The procedure for the adoption of the plan usually takes several months.

In practice, however, most municipalities do not have their own local spatial development plans. In such case, the mode of urban planning is determined by the decision on land development and management conditions. The decision serves as a promise for the investor that a building permit for the land will be issued; it does not authorize the commencement of construction works. Issuing the decision is possible provided that at least one adjoining property, accessible from the same public road, is developed so that the requirements for new buildings is de-fined. The decision is issued by the mayor after consultation with the relevant authorities. The application can be submitted by any person, regardless whether the applicant possesses any legal title to the property under consideration. Due to recent changes in the legislation, location of retail parks with an area exceeding 2000 sq.m. may only be based on a local zoning plan for the given area – the issuing of a decision on land development and management conditions in such case is excluded.

A small number of local spatial development plans that only partially cover the country’s area and decisions on land development and management conditions occurring in parallel with them remain a problematic issue. Unfortunately, the current situation sometimes provokes planning confusion and lack of harmonious development as there is no common policy binding for the local government units. However, legislative steps are planned to popularize local plans.

Overall, Polish urban planning legislation has come a long way from architectural chaos to organized schemes of administrative procedure. Although this process is not yet completed, there are visible signs of coordinated urban order becoming the reality. Lately, both local and governmental authorities have taken significant steps to clarify the situation for the benefit of citizens and potential investors.