October 2018 – Revitalising brownfield sites in the Czech Republic has generally been viewed as a nightmare for investors, both private developers and state organisations, mainly due to the length of time required for different permitting processes and the total investment that revitalisation involves, including decontamination and/or demolition costs. However, as suitable land plots for industrial development are becoming increasingly hard to come by, interest in brownfield sites are on the upswing.

This increase in popularity has also been fuelled by the amendment to the Czech Building Act effective from 1 January 2018, as the acceleration and streamlining of the permitting processes introduced under the amendment can also be used to develop brownfield sites. While these changes are not revolutionary, they are an important evolutionary step forward for the permitting process in the Czech Republic. If these changes are followed by the necessary legislative regulations (as has been repeatedly promised), the amended legislation should ensure that the permitting process will become closer to western European standards with regard to their duration and difficulty. This will have the knock-on effect of making the preparation of brownfield sites a bit easier.

The main changes brought by the amendment to the Czech Building Act that will help in the revitalisation of brownfield sites include: implementing changes to the zoning plan under the shortened procedure; the possibility of preparing a zoning plan with regulatory elements; and the joint procedure.

Making changes in a zoning plan using the shortened procedure (Sections 55a and 55b of the Building Act)

Compared with the standard procedure, the shortened procedure for changing a zoning plan can “save” up to six months (instead of the approximately year and a half to implement a change, which has been the standard, changes can now be shortened to less than a year). The savings consist in omitting the entire framework of the zoning plan and other procedures (the proposal is only discussed once, and the council only decides twice). The shortened procedure can also be used to update the principles of spatial development.

The municipal council, on its own initiative or based on the investor’s proposal, can initiate a change in the zoning plan using the shortened procedure. The basic condition for using the shortened procedure is no significant negative environmental impact. This exclusion is verified by an environmental impact assessment (EIA) carried out by the competent authorities, typically the opinion of the nature conservation authority, which must exclude any significant impact on any Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area (if located near the brownfield site), as well as the opinion of the regional authority, which must conclude that it is not necessary to assess the revitalisation’s impact on the sustainable development of the territory. If the opinions indicate the need to process variant solutions due to a negative environmental assessment, the standard procedure must be followed.

If the shortened procedure can be used for a change in the zoning plan, then the municipal council’s decision on making the change in the zoning plan completely omits the framework of the zoning plan. Subsequently (after the publication and processing of all materials), the change in the zoning plan is discussed at a public hearing. After the public hearing is finished, the public and authorities concerned may both submit comments, objections or opinions within seven days, which is followed by a standard assessment procedure, modifications, if any, processing of reasons, and approval and issuance of the change in the zoning plan.

Zoning plan with elements of a regulatory plan (Sections 43/3 and 52/2 of the Building Act)

The zoning plan must be general and must not contain any details that are stated in the regulatory plan or zoning decisions. In this respect, the amendment to the Building Act has introduced a partial change, such that it is now possible to prepare a zoning plan that will be more detailed in certain aspects. The zoning plan may now contain elements of the regulatory plan (if the municipal council has issued a decision on that). The municipal council can use this procedure to actively intervene in the preparation of municipal zoning plans and to define limits for change-making authorities, which then must be followed by the change-making authority when preparing the zoning plan or any change thereto.

A zoning plan with elements of a regulatory plan can also be used to regulate certain parts of a territory or a certain area, usually areas that can be built on, residential areas or industrial zones, in particular under the following regulations:

  • location and spatial layout of the structures, such as a street or building line; distance of the structure from the boundaries of the plots of land and neighbouring structures; floor-plan size; share of gross floor area to built-up area; height, volume and shape of the structure; basic information on the capacity of the structure; identification of the parts of the land plot that can be built on; possibility to build other structures on the land plot;
  • protection and development of the territory values, such as height regulation, buildings with architectural and/or urban value, and buildings with national and/or cultural heritage; and
  • in other areas, such as solutions of public infrastructure, public health protection and fire protection.

Appropriate adjustment of the elements of the regulatory plan can also simplify the procedure in subsequent procedures (zoning, building or joint procedures). If any regulation has been applied at the zoning plan level, then such a “regulated element” is no longer reviewed in subsequent procedures (no binding opinions or objections may be applied to it), because it applies that “binding opinions and objections to matters decided in issuing the zone planning documentation shall be disregarded”.

This procedure can be used for brownfield revitalisation. However, it is always necessary to choose a balanced way to regulate, because if the zoning plan is overregulated, no further change in the already “regulated element” will be possible in a subsequent procedure. In case of such a change, it would be necessary to make a change to the zoning plan, which would be unnecessarily lengthy.

Joint permit

At the stage of the actual placement and permitting of structures, the newly formulated joint procedure can bring significant time saving to the permitting process. The procedure is based on the principle of “one authority, one procedure and one permit, and one remedial instrument,” which can lead to speeding up and streamlining the procedure, in particular by eliminating duplications and limiting the repetition of remedial instruments for separate permits.

The following permits can be included under one joint permit: (i) permits for the construction of general structures (e.g., family houses, offices and factories that are permitted by the general building authority), (ii) permits for the construction of special structures (e.g., railway structures that are permitted by the railway building authority, construction of roads that are permitted by the road construction authority, construction of water structures that are permitted by the water authority, and energy transfer structures that are otherwise permitted by the Ministry of Industry and Trade), and (iii) special permits (i.e., connections to roads and permits for the felling of trees).

Thus, in principle, the joint permit incorporates zoning and building procedures, and instead of a separate zoning decision and building permit, only one joint permit is issued and one procedure is conducted. Simultaneously, one permit within one procedure allows for the construction of different types of structures (see above) and, in addition, the EIA process can be integrated into the joint permit.

In the event that a single structure is to be permitted, the procedure for a general structure is conducted and the permit is issued by the general building authority; the procedure for a special structure (siding, road, water structure) is then conducted, and the permit is issued by the competent special building authority (or by the Ministry of Industry and Trade for energy structures). In the case of a set of structures, the procedure is conducted, and the building authority permitting the “main” structure issues the joint permit. The other building authorities have the status of concerned authorities that issue binding opinions that are taken into account in the joint permit.

If the joint procedure also integrates the EIA process, then an application and documentation for the joint procedure, as well as documentation on the environmental impacts of the project, are submitted to the building authority. Submission of the documents is followed by their review by the building authority and the EIA authority. Subsequently, the building authority conducts the first round of opinions on the documents concerning the environmental impact of the project (within which comments of the general public, as well as those of the authorities and associations concerned, may be applied). After this first round of opinions, the procedure is interrupted, and the documents on the environmental impact of the project, as well as the comments, are submitted to the EIA authority to conduct the EIA process. After the EIA opinion has been obtained, the process returns to the building authority, which conducts a second round of opinions, this time only for the documents related to the joint procedure, in which objections or opinions may be submitted, and subsequently the final joint permit is issued.