Another milestone

A draft amendment to the Law on Planning and Development, necessary to unlock funds from the National Reconstruction Plan, has been approved by the Polish government. The initial versions of the draft contained revolutionary proposals, which have been widely commented on (often critically) in the sector. But what is in the final version of the draft?

The amendment provides for the introduction of a new planning instrument, which is to be the general plan for the municipality, replacing the study of conditions and regulating the planning rules for the municipality’s entire area with regard to the most important aspects. The general plan is to specify the functions of individual sites and such aspects as the intensity, height and maximum area of development as well as the requisite biologically active area.

What differentiates the new general plan from the existing study is its binding character for decisions and other planning acts. No longer will it be only local plans (as hitherto) that have to comply with this overarching act – from now on this obligation will apply to zoning decisions as well. Furthermore, the zoning decision will lose its previous significance, as it will only be issued in relation to areas of additional development designated by the municipality in the general plan. This is supposed to allow for better land development and exclude situations in which new buildings are built in completely unsuitable locations – for example, on the outskirts of a locality where the necessary infrastructure still needs to be provided. This problem will also be counteracted by the municipality’s ability to introduce social infrastructure accessibility standards regarding the distance of new housing developments from schools and green public spaces.

Shorter procedures

The new regulations also introduce a simplified procedure that will allow – with the approval of the local governing body – the establishment of small, specific changes to the plan that do not increase the environmental impact, and that allow the initial application procedure to be bypassed. The simplified procedure is appropriate for plans exclusively meant for renewable energy installations. Another new measure, which will significantly speed up the procedure for amendments, is to allow for the possibility of simultaneous procedures for amending the general plan and the local plan. This will also be facilitated by limiting the situations in which the Ministry of Agriculture has to agree to a change in the designation of agricultural land in the plan.

Integrated Investment Plan

Among the new instruments that could significantly change the planning process is the Integrated Investment Plan (IIP), i.e. a plan enacted for a specific main investment and a possible supplementary investment. It will be possible to enact an IIP both for areas not yet covered by a local plan as well as for those covered by the plan but with a different designation. This is similar to the solution introduced in the special housing act (the so-called ‘Lex Developer’ law) and is expected to replace it from 2026.

By the end of 2022, almost 300 resolutions had been passed in the country within the framework of the special housing act, which shows the growing interest in this type of investment, despite the high level of complexity of the current legislation – especially in terms of the required agreements. The amendment implements some of Lex Developer’s measures, while expanding their scope beyond exclusively residential developments.

The procedure for applying the IIP would begin at the initiative of the investor. An urban planning agreement would then be concluded between the municipality and the investor, which would regulate, among other things, the investor’s obligations with regard to the implementation of a complementary investment, e.g. the construction of technical infrastructure and roads. In doing so, the IIP is to be a different kind of local plan, so it would be necessary to obtain the standard set of approvals and opinions, conduct public consultations, and ensure the IIP’s compliance with the general plan.

Special provisions for investments in renewable energy sources

With the introduction of the new regulations, the provision that required the location of renewable energy source (RES) installations to be already stipulated in a study will disappear. It would also not be necessary for general plans. It will be possible to obtain a zoning decision for RES installations on any site. The principle of good neighbourliness – i.e. applying the parameters of already existing developments, which is logical given their function – will also not apply. Currently, RES installation (other than wind power plants, the location of which is regulated by separate regulations) is often carried out on the basis of development conditions decisions. Such a practice is to be curbed. The location of RES installations on agricultural land without the prior adoption of a local plan will be possible only for installations with a capacity of no more than 1,000 kW located on agricultural land of V-VI class. Despite assurances from the Ministry that the changes will not result in a slowdown in investment – among other things due to the transitional provision delaying this restriction coming into force – the market is sceptical about this change. On the other hand, the regulation allowing RES installations on existing buildings without planning restrictions has met with great approval.

Which changes have been rejected?

The original bill included the introduction of a 30 pct planning fee, which was to be payable regardless of whether the land was to be sold after the adoption of the local plan or whether it was to remain in the hands of the existing owner. The change was intended to more quickly free up for sale land that could be used for development, mainly residential. However, it was criticised because of the risk of monopolisation of the market by large players, for whom the cost of the planning fee would be negligible. Smaller players, on the other hand, could be forced to sell their land after the adoption of the plan due to the additional cost. All changes to the planning fee issue have been abandoned, as it was recognised that working out the appropriate regulations for this is not possible at the current stage of reform.

The first draft of the amendment stipulated that both already issued and new zoning decisions would be valid for five years. After further consideration, this restriction was also completely abandoned, with the final draft of the amendment reintroducing the five-year validity term. However, this is to apply only to decisions that become final after the new regulations come into force.

Too little time to enact the new general plans

Most of the provisions of the amendment are scheduled to take effect 30 days after its publication, but a number of transitional regulations have been provided for. As of January 1st, 2026, each municipality must have a general plan. After that date, without one, it will not be possible to adopt or amend a local plan or issue a zoning decision. Until then, the existing regulations are to remain in force (but no new amendments can be made to them except for public purpose investments), and it will be compliance with them that is taken into account in the procedure for local plans.

This means that municipalities will only have about two-and-a-half years to finance and pass general plans in order to avoid planning paralysis. This seems to be far too short a time to implement such revolutionary changes – especially since the funds for their implementation are not yet in place.

Weronika Guerquin-Koryzma is a partner in Baker McKenzie’s Warsaw office and head of the Warsaw office’s real estate practice

Kamil Matyśkiewicz is a senior associate in the Warsaw real estate and construction team at Baker McKenzie

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