Every new law has its pros and cons. This article points out the main advantages of and obstacles to introducing a new system for obtaining all documents in relation to construction and the subsequent use of the constructed facility. What has the new law introduced to the construction industry?

Introduction

The amendments to the Planning and Construction Act (Zakon o planiranju i izgradnji) (“PCA“) introduced numerous innovations aiming to improve the procedure for obtaining all permits and/or documents required for the commencement and completion of construction. In theory, this should have simplified the procedure. Fortunately, in most cases it actually did.

Expectation vs. reality

Novelties

A key feature of these changes was the introduction of registers of consolidated procedures and a central record of consolidated procedures operated by the Ministry of Construction, Traffic and Infrastructure and local authorities, which began their activities on 1 January 2016 (jointly “Registers“).

The Registers have networked all competent authorities and enabled their cooperation, resulting in a faster procedure. They promote the idea of efficient functioning of administration in the area of construction, especially in: (i) up-to-date examination of the status and progress of the application process for the relevant permits, and (ii) up-to-date insight into the documents submitted and issued in the relevant procedures.

The PCA prescribed that the investor may obtain through a one-stop shop all documents needed for the construction of a single facility, namely: (i) location conditions; (ii) construction permit; (iii) submission of notification of works; (iv) usage permit; (v) project conditions, ie connection of the facility to the infrastructure grid/network; (vi) conditions for connection to the infrastructure grid; and (vii) conditions for registration of the ownership right over the constructed facility, etc.

In this manner, the PCA aimed to facilitate the paperwork required for the issuance of permits by putting more pressure on local authorities. In particular, the deadlines for issuing decisions have been significantly shortened , while the obligation to obtain certain documents has been shifted to local authorities. In other words, instead of asking investors to provide a document which has already been submitted or already exists to a certain competent authority, the local authority now will be obliged to obtain and provide the document to the benefit of the investor. Therefore, the once passive role of local authorities in the issuance of construction documents and permits has become an active one.

Moreover, the new procedure allows all applications and supporting documents to be submitted electronically. This is a huge breakthrough, as submission in paper form and on CD was previously required.

Real life hurdles

Keeping in mind that the process is still brand new in Serbia, practice has shown that there are still a few hurdles that need to be overcome.

For instance, although the PCA prescribes strict deadlines for the action of the authorities (eg provision and gathering of documents), they are not always adhered to, so delays still occur in some cases.

Electronic submission of documents also gives rise to certain obstacles whose impact is mostly felt by the designers and engineers responsible for preparing technical documentation. First of all, a qualified electronic signature needs to be obtained in order to initiate the submission procedure (except for documents submitted in .dwg or .dwf format). Secondly, due to the limitations of the computer system of the consolidated procedure, only certain types of computer files can be accepted for submission, which causes headaches for engineers and designers. Finally, certain technical documents require drawings to have an electronic company stamp, which still does not exist in Serbia. For the time being, the authorities will provisionally accept a scanned version of the company’s physical stamp placed on the technical documentation where needed.

The introduction of a consolidated procedure is a first step towards accommodating the needs of investors. Certain obstacles need to be overcome, but every new law has to be tested in practice before its drawbacks can be recognised and eliminated.