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Regional planning and its pitfalls

Regional planning and its pitfalls

Unfortunately, regional planning in Austria is complicated and highly confusing. In contrast to many other countries – especially the federal states of Germany and Switzerland – Austria does not have a legally secured, federally uniform regional planning system. Commentary by Rudolf Schicker.

The Austrian Regional Planning Conference (ÖROK) was created by the former Federal Chancellor Dr. Bruno Kreisky to aid voluntary cooperation in matters of regional planning. This is because the Federal Constitution assigns the task of planning to those authorities who have the relevant sectoral expertise – e.g. transport planning or forestry land use is assigned to the Federal Government, regional planning to the Länder. Local planning is a national matter in terms of legislation, but the municipalities are responsible for its implementation. The size of the municipality is irrelevant here, whether Vienna or Gramais, Austria’s smallest municipality in the Tyrolean Ausserfern region – both have the same responsibilities with regard to local planning.

The regional planning laws of the federal provinces developed since the 1950s show – as do the building regulations – an almost unmanageable level of differentiation. Some, for example, define the size and location of shopping centres completely differently from the neighbouring federal province, others create their own dedicated categories for social housing and yet others create special areas for second homes or districts from which they are excluded. The situation becomes even more complex when it comes to building regulations. They are recorded in development plans and restrict the landowner in the design of his/ her building project. But there is no rule for which there is not also an exception. The federal provinces allow these exceptions in their regional planning laws according to the context of the residential area, i.e. the comparability with development possibilities of neighbouring properties. Others hand over content-related exceptions to local political decision-making and/or administration.

Nothing is simple: the situation becomes even more complex for the landowner if one takes into account that no landowner is entitled to a very specific land use provision that fully satisfies his requirements. This is left exclusively to the local council. It goes without saying that decisions are taken after the draft plans have been made public. However, there is no right to the consideration of individual requests. And once decided, some regional planning laws impose conditions upon municipalities, such as a requirement that no changes be made within the next 10 years. Others – such as in Vienna – only allow changes to land use plans if several plots are affected. If you as a landowner want to preserve your options to the fullest extent possible, it is advisable to become expertly acquainted with local development plans, land use provisions and building regulations. Urban planning surveys in the preliminary phases and lobbying during the proceedings are also often advisable, otherwise building land can be converted into grassland – without compensation in some regions – or the development potential reduced.

Legal challenges to (allegedly) unjustified, restrictive declarations and building regulations are time-consuming. Timely technical (planning and legal) support is generally advisable. 

Author:
Dipl.-Ing. Rudolf Schicker

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