Public at a Distance – Democracy in Crisis
Legally stipulated participation and recommendations
Planning as expertise and political process
An urban plan is one of the instruments of implementing the policies of the City in the area of urban planning. Decisions about the preparation of a plan and the plan itself are adopted by the Belgrade City Assembly, that is, assembly members, representatives of the political parties. In all the phases of preparation of a plan decisions are made by the Planning Commission, founded by the Belgrade City Assembly to deal with the questions of urbanism. President of the Planning Commission is at the same time chief urban planner of the city and his position is attached to the mayor’s office. Decisions made during the process of preparation of a plan are based both on expertise and political arguments. Accordingly, an urban plan is both a professional and a political statement.
In fact, all participants in preparation of plans are involved in creating the policies of development in specific areas. For the citizens and wider public, this participation is made possible in two phases – at the very beginning of the plan’s preparation, during the early public inspection, and in the concluding phase of the process during the public inspection. In the initial phase, public institutions are obliged to issue planning conditions from their respective areas of responsibility, while in the concluding phase they may put forward their objections.
The level and form of public participation in the process of preparation of a plan may be characterized as mainly informative and consultative – citizens may gain insight into the documents and relevant information, and they may communicate their grievances or suggestions. In the concluding phase of the process they may also publicly address their objections, primarily to the Planning Commission and the handler of the plan. Additional forms of citizens’ participation in conceiving the planning solutions (such as surveys, workshops, focus groups, public discussions, public presentations etc.) are not an established and common practice during the early public inspection and public inspection of plans.
In terms of experts’ control and public inspection, the decisions of the Planning Commissions are legally binding and have to comply with the law, plans of higher scale and planning conditions issued by the respective institutions in charge. Among other things, the Planning Commission is obliged to supervise the plan’s coordination with all these documents. In other words, legislators, previously agreed upon and adopted strategic goals and measures from the higher-scale plans, and involved public institutions which specify their conditions based on other legal acts and documents, define the framework for planning, but also the realm of activities of the Planning Commission.
Official information on the submitted objections, suggestions, attitudes of the plan’s handlers, including the decisions adopted by the Planning Commission during the various phases of preparation of the plan is not fully (and in a timely manner) available to the public. Some information is accessible in the later phases of preparation of the plan, while other is available only through specific demands for access to information of public importance.
For more information on the process and procedures of preparation of plans and for the diagram outlining these procedures and relevant actors, see the Serbian version of the web site or our publication.
Legally stipulated participation and recommendations
The process and procedures of preparation of a plan
The process and procedure of preparation of a plan commences with an initiative for preparation of a plan (most often launched by a public institution or private individual / investor). In response to that, the Secretariat of Urban Planning and Construction (in charge of preparing all the plans on the territory of Belgrade) and in cooperation with responsible institutions (e.g. the Secretariat for Environmental Protection) acquires the necessary elements for a decision on preparing the plan. Information on the initiative for preparation of a plan, including its contents, is not available to the public (unless specifically required from the responsible institution in the form of demand to access information of public importance).
According to the law, a decision concerning the preparation of a plan, among other things, states the aim of the project, requirements from the higher-scale plans and conceptual framework for the future planning solution. The decision proposal is adopted by the Planning Commission of the Belgrade City Assembly. The decision itself is adopted by the Belgrade City Assembly and published in the Official Gazette of the City of Belgrade.
The study for the early public inspection (RJU) is the preliminary, conceptual stage in preparation of the plan, with legally prescribed contents and form. It is prepared by the handler of the plan (which is a public enterprise, for example, the Belgrade Urban Planning Bureau, or a private company registered for planning services, meeting the required demands). As the institution responsible for preparation of the plans, the Secretariat of Urban Planning and Construction sets the dates of public inspection in the RJU study. According to the established practice in Belgrade, the Planning Commission assesses the RJU study prior to the early public inspection, and issues a separate conclusion about its contents.
The study for the early public inspection is displayed publicly for a minimum of 15 days. As stipulated by law, it contains textual material, and graphic material and documentation. During the early public inspection, all interested citizens may address their objections, suggestions and opinions about the presented material. Objections and suggestions are submitted to the Secretariat of Urban Planning and Construction in the written form. Also, during the early public inspection – namely, within the time frame prescribed by law – all the responsible public institutions (public utility enterprises, bureaus, secretariats etc.) are obliged to submit the planning conditions from their area of responsibility.
After the conclusion of the early public inspection, the Planning Commission may issue some guidelines for further preparations of the draft plan. Information on duration and organization of the RJU, all the objections and suggestions submitted by citizens, and planning conditions of the responsible institutions, including the guidelines of the Planning Commission, are included in the Report on the early public inspection as an official document signed by the Planning Commission. The Report on the early public inspection may be looked at only during the public inspection of the draft plan, as part of the material which is presented for public inspection (prior to that, only with a demand to access information of public importance).
According to the law, citizens do not receive official answers to the objections and suggestions they had submitted during the early public inspection period. Response to objections and suggestions is given by the handler of the plan, nevertheless not to each objection individually, but in general to all objections – in terms of land use, planned capacities and parameters of construction. These responses are presented to the Planning Commission during the expert control of the draft plan. Citizens may see the general responses of the handlers only during the period of public inspection of the draft plan, as part of the documentation presented for public inspection.
The draft plan, with prescribed contents and form, is prepared by the handler of the plan and addressed to the Secretariat of Urban Planning and Construction for expert control. This control is implemented by the Planning Commission and followed by the Report on the completed expert control. According to the law, as part of this report, conclusions of the Planning Commission are legally binding, i.e. the handler of the plan must act in accordance with them. Citizens may see the Report on the completed expert control only during the period of public inspection of the draft plan, as part of the material presented for public inspection.
The draft plan which is amended in accordance with the Report on the completed expert control is presented for public inspection(JU) for a minimum of 30 days. According to the law, the study for the draft plan includes textual material, graphic material and documentation. During the public inspection, all interested citizens may submit their objections pertaining to the presented material to the Secretariat of Urban Planning and Construction in a written form. Also, during the public inspection, all responsible public institutions (public utility enterprises, bureaus, secretariats etc.) may submit objections from their areas of responsibility.
The completed public inspection is followed by the public session of the Planning Commission, which may be attended by all submitters of objections. At the public session all submitted objections are discussed separately, and the handlers of the plan are obliged to communicate their attitude towards each objection. The final position of the Planning Commission on each submitted objection is formulated at the closed part of the session, which the citizens may not attend. Namely, it is not open for the wider public, but only for institutions in charge and handlers of the plan. Conclusion of the closed part of the session is the Report on the public inspection of the draft plan, signed by the Planning Commission. As part of this report, conclusions of the Planning Commission about each of the submitted objections are legally binding, that is, the handler of the plan has to act in accordance with them.
Each submitter of objections receives an official response from the Planning Commission in a written form. This response does not affect the further procedure of adoption of the plan, i.e. refusals of objections and possible appeals to such decisions do not affect the further course of the adoption procedure.
The draft plan which is amended in accordance with the Report on the public inspection is addressed to the Belgrade City Assembly for adoption. At the assembly session, it is possible to submit an amendment to the plan which proposes a change of the planning solution. If the amendment is accepted by the assembly majority, the draft plan is returned to the Planning Commission for reconsideration and corrections. Once the plan has been adopted, its textual material is published in the Official Gazette of the City of Belgrade.
The Report on the public inspection, and the report of the Secretariat of Urban Planning and Construction containing detailed description of the whole procedure of preparation and adoption of the plan, become integral parts of the plan’s documentation. This documentation is not a normative part of the plan, it is not published in the Official Gazette of the City of Belgrade and cannot be found either in the Central Registry of Planning Documents (CRPD) – although, according to the regulations pertaining to the contents of this registry, it is integral part thereof. It may be viewed only on special demand.
Agendas and conclusions of the sessions of the Planning Commission and Belgrade City Assembly are not publicly accessible to all citizens. They may be available only on demand for access to information of public importance and, possibly, if they are included in the documentation which is the subject of RJU or JU, in addition to the minimum prescribed by law.