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Construction industry in the spotlight: some…

Predrag Stojanovski • avg 3, 2023

Construction industry in the spotlight: some thoughts about the latest amendments to the Planning and Construction Law

On 26 July 2023 the Serbian Parliament enacted a major set of amendments to the Planning and Construction Law put forward by the Government. This article will discuss the impact of these changes on the construction sector and planning requirements.

The legislation makes more improvements to the online construction permitting system (CEOP). New functions, in particular E-Prostor (‘E-Space’), will greatly accelerate the development and alteration of planning documents, greatly enhancing overall efficiency of the process.

Another series of major changes concerns aspects of the green agenda. Structures will be able to be certified as ‘green buildings’ if they meet energy efficiency criteria. The law also contains provisions designed to promote electromobility, regulate solar farms, introduce a register of brownfield locations, and ensure connections to infrastructure at no charge (except for those who can prove they use renewable energy).

Additionally, for some categories of property holders, charges for converting usage rights to land zoned for construction into ownership have been abolished. This, however, does not extend to entities such as sports clubs and associations, housing and farming co-operatives, entities subject to Serbian regulations and bilateral international treaties governing implementation of Appendix G to the Succession Agreement, and socially-owned companies.

It remains to be seen to what extent the amendment will actually expedite this conversion. One category of entities that may benefit from the new provisions are current or former companies and other legal entities privatised pursuant to laws regulating privatisation, bankruptcy, and enforcement and their legal successors. Moreover, the removal of the charge may also be helpful to businesses that acquired usage rights to land zoned for construction after 11 September 2009 by purchasing buildings with land usage rights attached from entities not privatised pursuant to laws regulating privatisation, bankruptcy, and enforcement that are not their legal successors. Lastly, the new rules are also likely to benefit holders of usage rights to government-owned land zoned for construction but not developed that acquired such land with the intention to develop it pursuant to laws governing the use of land zoned for construction prior to 13 May 2003 or pursuant to decisions of the relevant bodies.

The amendments envisage a new Spatial and Urban Planning Agency that will certify the intended uses of land parcels as suitable for conversion into registered ownership without charge. This agency will also take on some duties of a public authority, which will enhance urban and spatial planning throughout the country.

Similarly, the new rules also transfer some powers from public authorities to other legal persons and notaries public, including the responsibility for releasing the planning requirements for a particular site (informacija o lokaciji). This change is designed to expedite the issuance of these mandatory documents.

Authorised persons will face stricter accountability standards when issuing planning permission documents, including misdemeanour charges for failing to abide by statutory time limits.

The new post of Chief Government Urban Planner will additionally improve Serbian spatial and urban planning standards by providing clearer structure and guidance.

Safeguards for natural and cultural heritage will be strengthened as the Government will be responsible for enacting spatial plans for special-purpose zones. This measure is designed to protect conservation areas from past planning abuses that have caused much harm to these spaces.

The amendments give local authorities four years to enact planning documents covering at least 70 percent of their areas zoned for construction, with fines envisaged for officials in non-compliant local governments.

Lastly, the changes include a requirement whereby external air conditioner units, currently ubiquitous in Serbia, must be removed from building facades or at least mounted so as to have no impact on their immediate surroundings. The time limit for removing these devices is two years for public buildings that are themselves listed or located within conservation areas of listed buildings, and five years for other buildings that are listed or situated in conservation areas. Air conditioners on unlisted buildings must be taken off within ten years.

The true impact of the many changes in the new Planning and Construction Law and their benefits for the Serbian planning and building regulation regime will only be revealed as the legislation is implemented in practice.