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Amendment to the Building Act - joint procedure replaces up to three separate procedures as of January

An eagerly awaited amendment to the Building Act which primarily seeks to simplify and expedite permission proceedings is set to come into force on 1 January 2018. What are the real-life ramifications as of the new year?

Among other things, the amendment to the Building Act introduces an unprecedented legal institution: joint (or "merged") proceedings. This means that a building project may be approved in a joint zoning and building permission procedure, possibly along with the environmental impact assessment (EIA) exercise, where necessary. In this manner, the joint procedure replaces up to three previously separate procedures. Investors may seek the issuance of a permit in joint proceedings for almost all kinds of building projects (with few exceptions concerning special types of structures, e.g. in aviation). The joint procedure culminates in a joint approval which contains the conditions for the placement of the building as well as for its actual construction. Proceedings are expected to be faster not only because of the fact that the building project is being handled in a single, coordinate procedure, but in particular because of the fact that the entire permission process results in a single administrative decision. This ought to put an end to the previously frequent occurrence of multiple challenges and appeals against all sorts of previously handed-down decisions. Eliminating this fractured and tangled state of affairs will go a long way towards speedier approval processes.

The option to go through separate zoning procedures and building permission procedures has been preserved alongside the joint procedure, i.e., the latter is an optional choice for the investor, who may just as well decide to go the route of separate procedures instead of one joint (or merged) procedure. One may expect the joint procedure to come into its own in the case of more straightforward building project, where it will truly simplify and expedite matters. In the case of larger or more complex projects, it is far from clear that this will be the case, and it remains therefore to be seen to which extent the joint procedure will be utilized e.g. for large-scale developments. An argument against it, in the latter case, are the substantial expenses towards preparing the documentation for the joint procedure which are likely several times higher than the expenses for a "simple" zoning procedure. In a zoning procedure, investors may at relatively moderate cost test the waters and establish whether or not their building project is at all feasible in its current manifestation.

Another area affected by the amendment to the Building Act is the discretionary leeway of public authorities to intervene and take influence on permission proceedings. The relevant public authorities are tasked with defending public interest where it may be affected by building projects, which is why they have the power to impose various restrictions, requirements, and obligations on the investor through binding opinions and administrative decisions. However, officialdom not seldom exceeds its authority and imposes conditions which go beyond their scope of competencies. The amendment to the Building Act seeks to forestall this behavior and to thus contribute to better binding opinions. Unfortunately, the lawmaker has neglected the need for more stringent time periods within which the competent authorities should submit their binding opinions. Generally speaking, the competence of affected public authorities is governed by a multitude of special laws and regulations, which means that over forty relevant laws had to be changed along with the amendment to the Building Act itself.

The most controversial change contained in the amendment bill concerns the curtailment of influence exercised by interest groups and citizens associations through their participation in proceedings conducted under the Building Act. As of January 2018, nature conservation and landscape protection groups may only attain participant status in those procedures under building law which are preceded by an environmental impact assessment. This latter change, however, is being challenged by a group of senators, who have filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court.

Source: Act No. 225/2017 Coll., on the amendment of Act No. 183/2006 Coll., on land-use planning and on the building code (Building Act), as amended, and of other relevant laws and regulations