The new building law will be a catastrophe for the Czech economy, as it ignores the needs of large Czech cities.
The Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament has begun discussing the draft of a new building law for the Czech Republic. Large Czech cities are impacted most by the issues with the current building law. To this end, the cities of Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Pilsen, and Liberec have spent the last year negotiating with the Ministry of Regional Development (MRD) to make necessary changes to the existing legislation. Under the current legislation, the state, cut off from the reality and needs of the country’s cities, irresponsibly plans on their behalf. This needs to be changed so that cities, the engines of the economy, can prosper. However, it is apparent that the state has not taken this into consideration, as the experiences and needs of big cities have not been reflected in the new law.
The future is in cities
Like it or not, approximately 70 percent of all Czechs will live in cities by 2050 (today, that number is 55 percent). In Europe, the number is 74 percent, and in 2050, we expect it to be roughly 84 percent. The role of cities will become increasingly important. Cities are and will continue to be the engines of the economy and have long surpassed federal governments in their flexibility. Wise states listen to their cities about the problems they face and attempt to accommodate them. This is a profitable approach. If big cities in the Czech Republic prosper economically, the surrounding regions will prosper too. It is in the common public interest.
Cities are diverse and have specific needs
Just as there is no single, universal patient with a single, universal diagnosis and treatment, there is also no single, universal ideal municipality. Rather, there is a wide and diverse range of cities and towns. The Ministry of Health understands this, but not the Ministry of Regional Development. The MRD creates rules for the ideal municipality and then forces this “universal treatment” on all cities and towns, regardless of the diagnosis. This concept has already failed. Instead of positive results, it brings endless bureaucracy and a declining quality of life in cities. Despite this, the proposed new building law retains and strengthens this non-functional system.
The end of the Prague Building Regulations
One of the specific problems of the new building law are “universal” building regulations. Thanks to its own set of building regulations, Prague can create a compact city of short distances. Prague’s building regulations are designed to address the specific problems of the city, associated in particular with the disintegration of the city’s structure and expansion of the city into the countryside. It enables the creation of compact residential neighborhoods, such as the popular Vinohrady, Letná, and Dejvice neighborhoods. Other Czech cities are also attempting to create their own building regulations, based on actual needs. The new building law rejects this, introducing national regulations that allow only limited deviations in zoning plans that are of no practical use. In the case of new Prague neighborhoods which are being planned for brownfields in Bubny-Zátory and Nákladové nádraží Žižkov, this approach threatens investment projects worth hundreds of billions of crowns.
In a nutshell, what are the problems with the new building law as drafted?
- The new building law ignores the various needs of cities and municipalities, and it is inflexible. It treats all municipalities the same. It does not differentiate between a village and a large city, even though it is clear that the two need to be planned differently. It does not allow cities to plan in the way they need nor does it support joint planning that crosses over administrative boundaries.
- The new building law is too bureaucratic and does not speed up processes. Everyone complains about the complexities of the current building law. But the new law has even more provisions. It does not eliminate any bureaucratic obstacles, it merely hides them or moves them elsewhere; for example, from zoning proceedings to land use plans. This hardly promises to speed anything up.
- The new building law will hamper the economy. The key benefit of the new law is the supposed expedition of the issuance of building permits. But for cities, it is the speed (and quality) of planning that is crucial. And it is precisely in this sphere that cities, which drive the nation’s economy, are being granted the least flexibility. The new law eliminates the possibility of cities employing their own rules, such as Prague’s current building regulations. It makes cities cumbersome and weak. It is essentially micromanagement on the part of the state. No prospering company applies this principle. The state’s desire to oversee every curb is senseless. In Europe, regional development belongs exclusively to the competence of local government.
What solutions do cities propose?
- The addition of a provision stating that statutory cities can have their own municipal building regulations. The MRD is detached from the daily agenda and realities of cities and cannot possibly set these rules correctly. And for the same reasons, it should enable cities to have land use plans that correspond to their needs and not establish rules for a “universally ideal municipality” as it has today. This is a pointless experiment that it would be foolish to continue with.
- All urban planning processes will be governed by cities themselves and not the state, as has been the case to date. This will speed up and streamline the entire process and will also improve the quality of the built environment.
- Retain the possibility of completing work already underway on the land use plans for the largest Czech cities. Otherwise, cities like Prague, Brno and Liberec will have to discard several years of work and start from scratch on key documents.