Zoning plan

A zoning plan is a detailed land use planning map with provisions for the use, protection and design of areas and physical surroundings. Zoning plans shall be adopted by the municipal council but may be prepared by both public and, in some cases, private parties.

The level of detail may differ depending on the purpose of the plan and whether more detailed zoning plans are scheduled to be prepared for parts of the plan, when the time of development is approaching.

When shall zoning plans be prepared?

Zoning plans shall always be prepared before permission is granted for major building and construction work. The municipality may introduce a requirement in the land use element stating that zoning plans shall be developed in other cases as well. The municipality shall assess the need for preparing zoning plans in the municipal planning strategy and the land use element of the municipal master plan. Zoning plans are not required to be prepared for energy plants subject to a licensing requirement, but the municipality may prepare plans for such plants.

Area zoning plans and detailed zoning plans

There are two types of zoning plans: area zoning plans and detailed zoning plans. The municipality can prepare zoning plans in the form of area zoning plans for several properties or larger areas. The municipality may leave it to other authorities or private parties to prepare proposals for area zoning plans within the limits adopted by the municipality.

Everyone has a right to prepare proposals for detailed zoning plans. Proposers of private detailed zoning plans are entitled to have their proposal received and considered by the municipality. Such consideration shall include taking a stance on whether the proposal shall be forwarded and circulated for public comment. Planning proposals must comply with the main features and limits of overriding plans. It is the developer’s job to assess the consequences of major deviations in relation to such plans. Detailed zoning plans are suitable for smaller areas and for the implementation of development projects and other initiatives. Private developers must start building projects within five years once a detailed zoning plan has been submitted. On application, the municipality may grant a two-year extension of the deadline. The application should be granted unless there are weighty grounds for rejecting it.

Planning proposals are required to be prepared by experts.

Example of joint presentation of area zoning plan and detailed zoning plan.

Example of joint presentation of area zoning plan and detailed zoning plan.

Land use objectives in the zoning plan

Land use objectives shall be stipulated for the area to which the plan applies. Land use objectives can be divided into sub-objectives that can be combined with one another or with zones requiring special consideration. The sub-objectives for zoning plans set out in the Act may be supplemented with regulations. The land use objectives are the same as for municipal master plans and zoning plans, with some minor exceptions.

Section of zoning plan map with legend. Section of zoning plan map with legend.

Plan description

Zoning plans shall contain a plan description that specifies the objectives of the plan, its main content and the effects of the plan. Descriptions of plans that may have a significant impact on the environment or society shall be supplemented with a separate assessment and description of the effects of the plan – an environmental impact assessment.

Zones requiring special consideration in the zoning plan

The zoning plan may have the same type of zones requiring special consideration as the land use element of the municipal master plan, but the considerations can often be safeguarded by stipulating provisions regarding the land use objectives in the zoning plan.

Provisions in the zoning plan

The provisions shall supplement the land use objectives and zones requiring special consideration shown in the zoning plan map and provide more detailed conditions for use of the area. The right to stipulate provisions is far-reaching. The Act defines the scope of such provisions in 14 subsections.

Legal effect

An adopted zoning plan is binding for future land use in the area. This means that projects or activities that contravene the plan are not permitted unless dispensation is granted. The legal effect of the plan applies to the implementation of new projects, but planning provisions may in some cases also lead to more stringent requirements for existing activities, for example requirements relating to noise.

If a building application is submitted in accordance with a zoning plan, it shall be granted if the project is in accordance with the plan and the provisions relating to building applications. Zoning plans form the basis for expropriation.

Consideration of zoning plans

Zoning plans shall be considered pursuant to specific rules for public participation. Private parties can submit proposals for zoning plans in connection with, for example, a building project.

Notice shall be given of the planning work and the start-up of the planning work shall be announced before a zoning plan proposal is prepared. If the plan has a significant impact on the environment or society, a proposal for a planning programme shall be prepared, sent for consultation and circulated for comment with a deadline of at least six weeks. Public agencies and other interested parties involved shall be notified of the planning work at the same time as landowners, lessees and neighbours to the planning area who are affected by the proposals. Planning proposals shall be sent for consultation with a deadline of least six weeks.

All plans shall contain a plan description. For plans that have a significant impact on the environment and society, this description shall meet the requirement for an environmental impact assessment. The requirement for an environmental impact assessment is set out in the regulations to the Act. Plans falling within the scope of an overriding plan shall not be assessed more than necessary and shall only supplement assessments made in relation to the overriding plan. The final planning proposal is sent for consultation, circulated for comment and announced. Landowners, lessees and other rights holders in the planning area, as well as affected neighbours, shall be informed of the planning proposal and where to find it. The municipality will consider comments received after the consultation round before the plan is sent to the municipal council for decision. If there are objections to a plan, the matter must be decided by the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation if the municipality does not uphold the objection. The final planning decision shall be announced. Information shall be provided about the right of appeal and deadline.

Consideration of private proposals for zoning plans

Private proposals for detailed zoning plans shall be presented to the municipality in a meeting so that the municipality is informed about the content and limits of the plan. The municipality can clarify the requirements for a planning proposal. At the same time, it may provide advice and assistance in the planning work. If the plan is in conflict with an overriding plan, the developer must assess the consequences of the deviation from the overriding plan. The municipality decides whether the plan shall be put forward. The municipality can also demand that an area zoning plan be prepared before the detailed zoning plan when there is a need for further clarification.

Within twelve weeks, the municipality shall decide whether the proposal, with any alternatives, shall be put forward and circulated for comment. The municipality is free to make alternative proposals, make changes to plans before the consultation round and circulation for comment or to choose not to submit the planning proposal. If the municipality does not wish to submit the proposal, the proposer shall receive a letter of this giving grounds for why. A private proposer cannot appeal such a decision. If the proposal is in accordance with the municipal master plan, the proposer can demand that the municipal council consider the question of whether the area shall be subject to zoning. Directly affected parties shall be notified of the final zoning decision and the decision shall be announced.

Joint processing of planning proposal and building application

If a planning proposal and a building application are to be processed jointly, this requires the consent of both the municipality and the proposer/developer. The municipality will alert the relevant rights holders to the building application as well. The deadline for issuing statements is six weeks. Any objections and comments should be addressed to the municipality. The plan must be formally adopted before a building permit can be granted, and separate decisions must be made regarding the building application and the planning matter.

Plans that must be decided by the ministry

The same rules apply to objections to zoning plans as to the land use element of the municipal master plan. If the objection concerns clearly defined areas, the municipal council can adopt the rest of the plan. The Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation decides whether to uphold the objection and may make such alterations as it deems necessary. If a plan violates national interests, regional plans or the land use element of a municipal master plan, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation may revoke or change a zoning plan even if no objections have been raised.

Alterations to and revocation of zoning plans

The same rules apply to alterations to and revocation of zoning plans as for the preparation of new plans. The municipal council or the delegated authority can make decisions regarding minor alterations or supplements within the main features of the zoning plans. Minor alterations are changes that have no significant bearing on any of the affected parties or interests.

Dispensation from plans and provisions

On application to the municipality, a developer can be granted dispensation from plans and provisions if such permission does not result in the considerations behind the provision being significantly disregarded. The advantages of granting dispensation must clearly outweigh the disadvantages.

Neighbours shall be alerted, and regional and government expert agencies shall be given an opportunity to make statements. The municipality, the county authorities and government expert agencies affected should work together to establish practical procedures for determining which cases shall be considered for dispensation. The municipality should not grant dispensation if these authorities advise against it. Dispensation decisions can be appealed.

The dispensation does not change the plan, but gives permission to deviate from it in the case in question. If an application for dispensation entails a significant, permanent deviation from the plan, such changes should be dealt with as zoning amendments.

Municipalities may introduce fees for applications for dispensation.

There is in particular great pressure to grant dispensations in the shore zone. The Act contains a separate provision on the transfer of authority to grant dispensation to central government or regional bodies.

 zoning plan with base map in greyExample of zoning plan with base map in grey. The base map includes contour lines, property boundaries, place names and building outlines.

Example of regulated roof ridge direction, building density, areas of unobstructed visibility etc.Example of regulated roof ridge direction, building density, areas of unobstructed visibility etc.

Example of map presentation of plan register information.Example of map presentation of plan register information. Current zoning plans are specified with the national ID number for land use plans.

Example of vertical zoning for different purposes.

Example of vertical zoning for different purposes.