Source: eKapija | Tuesday, 02.10.2012.| 16:17
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Harald Muller, project manager at Ambero Consulting in Serbia - New investment as result of application of contemporary land management systems

(Harald Muller)

In order for our country to be more competitive and more attractive to a large number of investors, the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning launched the project Improvement of Land Management in Local Self-Governments in Serbia in late 2010. With the support of Ambero Consulting and GIZ, 13 municipalities and cities have worked on the development of contemporary land management systems renovation of deserted industrial plants, organization of informal procedures aimed at increasing the participation of citizens, land valuation, establishment of urban consolidation...

The most important task of the project is to adapt land management to the new challenges of the open market economy.

- Selection of municipalities was done in cooperation with the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities (SCTM). In this project, the accent is placed on municipal land management and the introduction of new, market-oriented planning instruments. The background for that is a continuous political process of transformation on Serbia's path to the European Union – Harald Muller, the manager of this project on behalf of Germany's Ambero Consulting, says in an interview with eKapija.

eKapija: How did you decide to start the development of new instruments of municipal land use planning and land management in Serbia?

The first project in the field of land management was already implemented within the framework of serbian-german cooperation in the period between 2003 and 2009. The project activities were focused on cadastral issues and implementation of geographical information systems. In the discussion about the continuation of the project was recommended that the emphasis in the new project should be placed on municipal land management and the introduction of new, market-oriented planning instruments. The background for this is the continuos political transformation process on the path of Serbia's rapprochement to the EU, which should also include adjustment of land management and urban planning instruments according to the market economy conditions and european standards.

eKapija: In which way did you choose 13 local governments to cooperate with in this project?

The goal of the project was and it remained to develop and to test new instruments in cooperation with selected pilot municipalities. The selection of municipalities was conducted in consultations with the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities of Serbia taking into account a predefined criteria catalogue. An important pre-condition for the cooperation were project proposals of the municipalities which should have enabled testing of an at least one new land management or urban planning instrument. At the same time the project proposals should have complied with current european goals in the field of spatial and urban planning, in a manner, for example, as they are formulated in the Leipzig Charter. According to it, inner-urban development should be promoted in european cities and municipalities, for example through the reuse of industrial brownfield land. A non-orderly development of construction land should be restricted and citizens should be more involved in the planning procedure. Further criteria were for example adequate personnel capacities, engagement of the municipality, availability of data, existing cooperation with other GIZ projects.

eKapija: What are the biggest problems of cities and municipalities in Serbia that you had noticed before the start of the project?

Like in a lot of other eastern european countries, the problems in serbian cities and municipalities are related to the political transformation from a formerly socialist planned economy to a market-oriented social system. Unresolved ownership issues and a lack of adequate land development instruments lead to an uncontrolled urban development in the cities, which is most notable in the city outskirts. This kind of development results both in environmental and economic problems. An uncontrolled urban development and urban sprawl derogate not only the visual appearence of the cities and municipalities but are also linked to enormous infrastructure costs.

eKapija: What does a contemporary land management system imply?

Land management at the local level is about managing the way land is used and resolving the issues regarding land ownership in cities and municipalities. The principal goals of a contemporary land management system are to use the available resources as rationally as possible, provide positive impulses for economic development and to protect the environment, at the same time ensuring socially balanced development. Successful achievement of the above mentioned goals requires adequately formulated planning and management instruments and their balanced implementation, as the said objectives often mutually dissonant. The following points are in my opinion key points of a modern land management and urban development system:

The first is market orientation. In times of a boosting global economy and with growing competition, cities and municipalities have to prepare themselves in order to be successful in the competition for investments. The role of the cities here is to prepare suitable construction land as a pre-condition for the establishment of commercial and industrial enterprises. Therefore land management/urban planners have to cooperate closely with all relevant stakeholders especially with local economic development departments. Nowadays it is not enough that urban planners provide just urban plans and therewith their task is finished. Let’s take, for example, the revitalization of industrial brownfield areas. Serbia has lot of such areas. The revitalisation of all these areas is a huge task and requires a close cooperation of different stakeholders and departments on local and national level. Besides the provision of urban plans as a pre-condition for issuance of building permits, cities have to analyse the feasibility of the plan and the investment costs for the renewal of infrastructure. They also have to solve ownership issues, analyse the value of land and buildings, analyse the environmental impacts and the need of remediation of polluted sites and so on. In that context, modern land management implies a close cooperation between different disciplines, whereby urban planning has a key role in the coordination of such procedures.

When we talk about market orientation, there is another point that has to be mentioned. In previous times in Serbia, as well as in other former socialist countries, construction land was publicly owned or could be expropriated when, for example, the city wanted to build a new housing area. Now this has changed. Due to this fact, new instruments for providing construction land are needed. That is the reason why we discuss and introduce new instruments like urban land reallocation and methods of land valuation.

A second characteristic of modern land mangement is related to the change of paradigms appeared in the last years and decades in urban development. Since the 1990´s it has become more and more important that land management and urban development focus not only on the development of new building areas on the outskirts of the cities but also on brownfields and disadvantaged areas. The renewal of already built-up areas has come into focus and the slogan “inner development before outer development” describes this new urban policy and plays a key role when we talk about how to achieve sustainable development. This new urban policy was proclaimed in the so called Leizig Charter on sustainable cities and has lead to remarkable changes in the european urban development planning system.

Furthermore in the Leipzig Charter the Ministers of the EU countries pointed out that planning has to integrate the interests of all citizens and stakeholders to a greater extent. More transparency and participation is needed. The Leipzig Charter also promotes and advocates a more “integrated” approach in urban and land management and considers both the environmental and the social impact of urban development. That is why the project started with the elaboration of integrated urban development strategies in Kragujevac and Uzice which are close to finalization.

eKapija: The concept of urban consolidation (land reallocation, land assembly) has been in use in Germany for 20 years now, but it has not fully come to life in Serbia yet. Would you please present us this concept in brief?

Already in the construction law of 1931 Serbia had introduced the instrument of land reallocation. But due to the various political changes it couldn´t be established, so that until today there are no experiences with this important instrument. What is land rellocation? It is a very important instrument for an orderly implementation of urban plans. The purpose of reallocating land is to create plots suitable in terms of location, shape and size for building or other uses. Land reallocation is a land-swap procedure governed by public law. The purpose of this procedure, which may be applied within the area covered by a binding land-use plan or in a built-up area, is to reorganise or open up specific areas of both developed and undeveloped land. A land reallocation procedure is ordered and executed by the municipality whenever and as soon as this is required to implement the binding land-use plan or when necessary for reasons of orderly urban development in built-up areas. The properties affected are first pooled; then vehicular and pedestrian areas, as well as green spaces are deducted and the remaining area redivided among property owners. In principle, they should receive properties equal in value to the original. Where this proves impossible they receive compensation.

eKapija: Which local governments have started the urban consolidation? What results do you expect?

At the moment we are supporting 3 cities and municipalities in the introduction of land reallocation. In Despotovac we are working on the first draft of the land reallocation plan for a new housing area, in Uzice we do the same for a commercial area and in Novi Sad we discuss in how far this instrument can be applied for the new parcellation of a part of the housing area in Miseluk III. In all 3 cities and municipalities the first step has been done: analyzes of the ownership situation and elaboration of a map of existing situation. In Despotovac and Uzice we are already working on the so called „land reallocation plan“ which contains the proposal how to redistribute the land and we will present the draft very soon.

Important is the fact that at the moment this instrument can only be applied if all owners agree. But we already cooperated with the Ministry in the preparation of a by-law on land reallocation and we hope that the new government will continue working on that and finalize the procedere with the adaption of a serbian regulation in order to have clear rules for the application of this important instrument.

eKapija: The project is also focused on the building land valuation. What are the problems with the land valuation in Serbia? In which way will the situation be improved through Ambero Consulting's project?

Talking about land valuation, the main probem is that Serbia at this point in time, as well as other transition countries, doesn’t have clear and national wide harmonized rules how to valuate land and real estate property. As initial talks in Serbia have shown, there are many stakeholders who have strong interest in a proper land valuation system, like for example banks, courts, insurances, tax authority, independant court experts, local self governments, privatisation agency, etc. That was the reason why we suggested to the Ministry to analyse the situation und to elaborate a proposal how to overcome this situation. What is needed are national standards in procedures and in criterias how to valuate land as well as appropriate administrative structures, adapted to serbian conditions. According to our long experience in Germany we suggest a national regulation which, i.e. enables the local self governments to establish a local data base of real estate values, which could be used by all relevant institutions and stakeholders as a base for the valuation of real estate property. That is why we started with such a data base in 3 pilot cities.

eKapija: One of the projects was the development of land registry in Valjevo. Do local governments in Serbia have a database of building land and real estate in their possession?

The cities in Serbia are slowly becoming aware of the necessity to have databases of their own (municipal) property, in order to establish a proper management of it. Of course, having a precise and updated registry of the property is just a basis. It is also necessary for municipal management to have a proper valuation of it, which can provide a good tool for efficient management of property in line with the market. At the present time we support 3 cities in Serbia in their efforts to introduce those tools - Subotica, Valjevo and Zrenjanin. In order to accomplish this in a modern way, a local software developing company is creating a tailor made serbian solution for a GIS based property registration and valuation with a strong backing from the Serbian Tax Authority.

eKapija: Many municipalities and cities possess brownfield sites. What is the best way to offer such unused facilities to potential investors?

As I mentioned above, the development of brownfield sites requires a more market orientied approach under close participation and involvement of all relevant public and private stakeholders. The brownfield development, especially in case of big industrial complexes with different owners, is a difficult task. Usually it is not easy to find investors who simply buy and renew the whole area. In such cases it is necessary to think about alternative development solutions of the area. How to develop it? Which buildings can be sold, which might be demolished? What about the market chances, which economical cluster should be adressed? In which condition is the infrastructure? Should the area be reparcelled? All these questions should be tackled in a logical sequence of planning steps. At the beginning basic questions can be answered in prefeasibility or feasibility study. Within such a study, or in parallel, a complete analysis of the existing conditions should be done. Ownership situation has to be analysed and clarified and the shape of the technical infrastructure has to be checked. After this phase of analysis, the future land use and urban design should be dicussed. For that purpose it has proved effective to introduce quality improving planning methods, such as cooperative advisory procedures involving experts from different fields such as architecture, urban and landscape planning, local economic development institutions and the citizens themselves. And finally a professional project management and development structure needs to be established.

Whatever the planning procedure might look like, key point is that brownfield development requires a close cooperation of all relevant disciplines as well as cooperation between local and national level.

eKapija: A number of general and detailed regulation plans have been designed under this project. Have the municipalities realized the importance of project planning for their development and for attracting investors? What new sustainable development approaches in urban planning did you suggest to local governments?

I would say yes. And we are very satisified with the cooperation with the local self governments. It was fruitful for both sides. We had the chance to learn about the specific conditions in the field of urban planning in Serbia. Serbia has a long tradion in urban planning, but some things have been lost due to the frequent political changes. Nowadays in times of economic crisis urban planning sometimes is only seen as a „necessary evil“ in order to enable issuance of building permits. But such a view is too shortsighted and undervalues the importance of urban planning. Urban planning is more – it is the instrument which decides about the quality and attractiveness of our cities and environment. In that sense we tried to establish some new planning procedures. For example we integrated all stakeholders from the early beginning and introduced the principle of “early stakeholders’ involvement and citizens participation” because we are convinced that partizipation and transparency can increase the legitimacy and the quality of plans and their implementation.

Furhermore, we reactivated the instrument of urban design as a base for detailed regulation plans and we started with the elaboration of urban design guidelines in order to achieve good quality of future public and private space. As already mentioned, we introduced new instrument of integrated urban development planning in Uzice and Kragujevac. It was the first time that in Serbia such an instrument has been elaborated. And the results are really good. What is missing now, has to be established on national level, according to the experiences in other european countries: A national program for urban renewal and integrated urban development planning.

eKapija: One of the aims of the project is to increase the participation of citizens in the work of certain city and municipal agencies. In which way is it possible to involve citizens in the work of a local government? How important are the ideas coming from citizens?

See above. I already addressed that point and mentioned that citizen partizipation from the early beginning of the planning procedure is nowadays an essential part of a modern planning culture. There are lot of methods and instruments of partizipation available and a lot of experience made on international level. According to the individual case specific participation methods are available such as traditional public hearing, but as well the web based consultation, discussion groups and workshops, ''world cafe'', visioning, choice catalogue and others. We tested several instruments in our project and our experience will be incorporated in a guide for planners and political decision makers on which we started working recently.

The opinion and ideas coming from the different stakeholders are always important because in this way you can get a better idea about that what they really want.

eKapija: Which of the local governments that took part in this project have made the biggest progress?

The progress depends on the nature of the project. For brownfield developments you need to have a long breath, patience and resistance and sometimes it takes 10 years and more to see the first results. Other topics are easier to handle. That is why I don’t want to highlight a specific city. But I can say that in nearly all cities we have achieved our goals. Some projects still need a legal framework, for example the projects where we deal with land reallocation and land valuation. That is for sure one of the topics in the 2nd phase.

eKapija: In your opinion, how much have the conditions for the arrival of investors in these local governments improved upon the implementation of these projects?

It is still to early for an evaluation of the project´s activities regarding the conditions for attracting investors. This question focuses especially on the brownfield projects. In case of Smederevo we finished the feasibility study and now we support the city in the next step. The project will be shown on the Expo Real in Munich, the biggest commercial property fair in Europe and a hub for international investors. The intention is to check in how far this project meets the interest of international investors. We have to see what will be the feedback, but at least we can say that Smederevo has done it’s homework. In the case of Kraljevo and Nis an information base for investors, a so called building registry, has been established. The city of Kraljevo therefore used modern GIS-technology. Both cities are now better prepared to answer future investors questions. Furthermore, in both cities prefeasibility studies have been done and the results will be discussed soon at our Urban Laboratory. But as I already pointed out, the development of big brownfield areas need time, resistance and patience. And we are ready to support the cities in the followings steps in our 2nd phase which will be conducted from January 2013 untill December 2015.

eKapija: The plan for the second phase, which will take place between 2013 and 2015, is to make recommendations for the improvement of legal and institutional mechanisms and to organize expert trainings. What will be done under this project and who it is intended for?

The second phase will continue with the pilot projects according to the agreements with the cities and muncipalties. Some projects will come to an end, others will continue. Besides of all that, the second phase will focus more on the discussion and dissemination of the project´s results at the national level. At this point it is necessary to mention the role of the Serbian Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities (SCTM – SKGO) as important institution for Serbia-wide dissemination of project experiences and achievements. Urban Planning and Housing Commettee of SCTM should be the platform for spreading the knowledge and experience gathered in pilot cities.

It is also intendend to analyse in how far the legal framework should be adapted and what should be done to promote and disseminate the new instruments. This includes trainings for members of local and national governments and we also intend to establish a cooperation with the relevant universities.

Suzana Obradovic

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