Land use in Italy has become an urgent problem. Current data show a persistent increase in land use. In the last 50 years, the country’s area of developed land has increased by 166 per cent (with 8 sq m per second, or 100 hectares per day, currently being developed for buildings or infrastructure).

The negative effects of this trend are clear: higher production of CO2, less land being available for agricultural use, and increased risk of natural disasters such as landslips and flooding.

The adverse economic climate of the last five or six years has meant that previously dismissed areas (that is, brownfield sites) and distressed assets are now being looked at again. Indeed, many production and manufacturing sites which have recently been closed, will be added to those sites rejected during the ’70s and left undeveloped until now. However, it is also clear that building on greenfield sites is more convenient than re-developing brownfield sites as the latter generally entail high costs for upgrading or demolition.

Provisions of the bill

In order to address these problems, a bill on the reduction of land consumption promoting the re-use of developed land and of brownfield sites is currently before the Italian parliament. In particular, the bill aims to restrict greenfield development, place more value on previously undeveloped areas and promote agricultural activities through the re-use of developed land and the regeneration of urban areas.

In order to attain these goals, the bill expressively provides that, under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Evaluation (SEE) procedures (both of which are based on the principle of pre-emptive action and are undertaken in order to avoid any potential negative effects of development projects), developers will be required to show that there is no more suitable alternative location for the project.

Furthermore, in order to guarantee a coherent national land development programme, the bill provides that the ministries involved (namely the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Environment and Protection of Land and Sea, the Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities and the Ministry for Infrastructure and Transport) will issue a decree—to be updated every five years—to determine regional targets for the reduction in the rate of greenfield development. A new committee will be established by means of a further decree in order to control and monitor the proper implementation of the first decree.

In relation to the regeneration of urban areas, regional governments are to provide municipalities with detailed provisions for the reduction in the rate of greenfield development by identifying the areas in which building development is already proposed in town planning schemes.

The bill also introduces incentives, including tax measures, for the regeneration urban areas and a prohibition on changing the designated use of agricultural areas which have received state and European Union aid, for a period of five years from the receipt of such aid. This is clearly an attempt to stop land designated for agriculture to be used for other purposes. A fine may be imposed for non-compliance with these provisions.

Finally, any income received by the state in return for the issuance of building permits and as a result of the fines noted above, is to be exclusively directed towards urban renewal projects, building renovations and environmental redevelopment.

Looking ahead

As the law is not yet in force, the provisions described here may be changed during the ongoing approval phase which, according to a statement from the Italian Prime Minister, is due to be concluded this summer. If the bill is passed as it stands, it may effectively promote the re-use of redundant facilities (brownfield sites) and distressed assets, resulting in new interest in these areas. However, it should be noted that the bill contains many references to future ministerial and regional decrees which may delay the effective implementation of the law. It is hoped that the final legislation on restricting the spread of development will be less vague and easier to implement than the provisions of the bill appear to be at present.