Article | Last updated: 17/11/2021 | Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development
The municipality is the local planning authority. The municipalities are responsible for preparing a municipal master plan with a social element and a land-use element, and for creating a municipal planning strategy. In addition, the municipalities shall ensure that zoning plans are prepared in the form of area or detailed zoning plans.
The municipal planning system consists of the following planning tools:
- Municipal planning strategy
- Municipal master plan with social element and land-use element
- Zoning plan, in the form of an area zoning or detailed zoning plan
Most of the planning takes place in the municipalities. The municipal master plan is the municipality's general plan, and the municipal council's most important management document. All municipalities shall have a municipal master plan with a social element and a land-use element. The social element and the land-use element can be prepared together or separately. The municipality shall also ensure that zoning plans are prepared for the implementation of major building and construction projects. Proposals for zoning plans can be prepared by the municipality itself, by other public bodies or by private actors. At the beginning of each electoral term, a municipal planning strategy is adopted in which the municipal council decides which plans are to be prepared during the term.
Municipal planning shall facilitate the development of the municipal community and clarify how the land in the municipality can be used. The planning shall promote municipal, regional and national goals, interests and functions. Implementing new building and construction projects contrary to the land-use plans that have been adopted is not permitted. The municipality's planning shall be realistic and no additional or more detailed plans than is necessary should be prepared.
The municipality shall ensure that the planning processes are open and predictable. The municipality shall facilitate the public participation of residents, businesses, organisations, institutions and public bodies in the planning work. The municipality shall also ensure that this happens when private individuals prepare planning proposals. All plans shall contain a description of the purpose of the plan, the main contents of the plan and how the plan will affect the environment and society. Many plans will require preparation of an impact assessment. Planning proposals are circulated for comment and presented for public scrutiny before they are adopted by the municipal council.
Municipal planning strategy can be described as “a plan for planning”. The planning strategy shall be prepared and adopted by the municipal council during the first year of the electoral term. In the planning strategy, the municipal council decides whether there is a need to start work on new plans, or whether the current plans should be revised or revoked during the electoral term. The main question is: should the current municipal master plan be continued, or should all or part of it be revised?
The municipalities shall assess the need for planning on the basis of social development, long-term land use, environmental challenges and sector activities. National expectations regarding regional and municipal planning are an important part of the basis for a municipal planning strategy. In the planning strategy, the municipal council should also take a position on how the UN Sustainable Development Goals are to be followed up in municipal plans. The assessment of the need for planning should be seen in connection with the regional planning strategy, which is prepared in parallel by the county authority.
How a municipal planning strategy is prepared
When working on the planning strategy, the municipality shall solicit the views of central government and regional bodies and neighbouring municipalities. The municipality can invite broad public participation and public debate on the contents of the municipal planning strategy if it considers it expedient. The proposal for a decision on a municipal planning strategy shall be made public at least 30 days before it is considered by the municipal council.
If it is clear that all or parts of the municipal master plan are to be revised, the municipal planning strategy can be merged with the planning programme for the municipal master plan. This will save time, enabling faster adoption of the municipal master plan.
The social element of the municipal master plan is the municipal council's general management document. In the social element, the municipal council adopts goals and strategies for how the municipal community and the municipality's activities will develop in the coming years. The goals and strategies should be developed in close collaboration with residents, businesses, organisations, institutions and affected public bodies. When working on the social element, the municipality should consider alternative strategies for social development, long-term land needs requirements and sector activities. The municipality should also consider how the priorities can contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The social element shall provide the basis for overall priorities in the land-use element, for example through a separate land-use strategy.
The social element of the municipal master plan shall have an implementation element that shows how it is to be followed up. The implementation element forms the basis for the municipality's prioritisation of resources, planning and cooperation functions, and clarifies measures within the municipality's financial framework. The implementation element has a four-year horizon, and shall be revised annually together with the municipality's finance plan and budget. The finance plan pursuant to section 14-2 of the Local Government Act may be included in or constitute the implementation element.
A municipal sub-plan can be prepared for specific topics or areas of activity. Such municipal sub-plans are prepared using the same process as the social element of the municipal master plan, and shall have a separate implementation element.
How the social element of the municipal master plan is prepared
A planning programme shall be prepared when work commences on the social element of the municipal master plan. The purpose of the planning programme is to create agreement on the purpose of the planning work, how the planning process is to be carried out and the arrangements for public participation. The municipality shall also show which assessments are to be made and how the various alternatives are to be assessed in the planning programme. The proposed planning programme shall be circulated for comment and presented for public scrutiny. The time limit for submitting comments and input shall be a minimum of six weeks. The municipal council has the authority to adopt the planning programme, but can delegate it to a different political body or the administration if they so wish.
The active public participation of residents, businesses, organisations, institutions and public bodies shall be facilitated in the preparation of the social element of the municipal master plan. The proposal for the social element of the municipal master plan shall subsequently be circulated for comment and presented for public scrutiny. The time limit for submitting comments and input shall be a minimum of six weeks. In connection with this, the planning proposal shall be announced in at least one newspaper that is commonly read in the locality, and also be made available electronically, for example on the municipality's website. After comments and input have been considered, it is the municipal council that adopts the social element of the municipal master plan. The adopted plan shall be announced and made available to all.
How the social element will be followed up by the municipality and other parties
The social element of the municipal master plan shall form the basis for the municipality's own activities, and for the activities of the central government and regional authorities in the municipality. This requires broad agreement on the contents of the plan, and that goals and strategies are well established both internally in the municipality and with other actors that play an important role in its implementation. Goals, strategies and measures that have been adopted in the social element shall constitute the basis for plans that are adopted in different sector areas, for the land-use element and for the municipality's financial planning. A clear link between the implementation element and the finance plan is particularly important to ensure implementation of the social element.
The land-use element of the municipal master plan consists of a plan description with an impact assessment and a planning map with provisions for use, conservation and design of land and physical surroundings for the entire municipality's land and sea area. The land-use element shall show where development can take place in the municipality, and which areas are to be used for agriculture, nature, outdoor recreation and reindeer husbandry. The land-use element is important for ensuring long-term, sustainable development and management of the land, nature and cultural environments in the municipality.
The map shows the current and planned land use with land-use objectives and zones requiring special consideration. The land-use objective indicates what an area can be used for, with legally binding effect. This means that no new projects can be initiated in conflict with the municipal master plan. For example, land for residential purposes is marked in yellow on the planning map. The zones requiring special consideration indicate which considerations must be taken into account when the area is to be used for the purpose specified in the plan. These zones are shown with black or red hatching across the land-use objective. Examples of such considerations include the risk of floods and landslides, cultural monuments, biodiversity, agriculture or reindeer husbandry.
The land-use element of the municipal master plan shall show how important considerations and conditions are to be followed up in the zoning plan, processing of building applications and through later management of the land areas. This is done by adopting provisions for land-use objectives and zones requiring special consideration. Through the provisions, the municipality can impose conditions or requirements for the use of the land and for the design and implementation of building and construction projects. Such provisions may, for example, consist of requirements concerning a zoning plan, maximum building bulk or preservation of the cultural environment.
The land-use element of the municipal master plan must be flexible enough to safeguard new needs and opportunities, it should not be too detailed and should not have more restrictions than necessary. Sometimes there is a need for more detailed planning of land use in some parts of the municipality, for example in urban areas. In such cases, municipal sub-plans can be made, which are prepared according to the same content and process rules as the land-use element of the municipal master plan. An alternative to the municipal sub-plan can be an area zoning plan, see more under “zoning plan”.
How the land-use element of the municipal master plan is prepared
A planning programme shall be prepared when work commences on the land-use element of the municipal master plan. The purpose of the planning programme is to create agreement on the purpose of the planning work, how the planning process is to be carried out and the arrangements for public participation. In the planning programme, the municipality shall also show how the impact assessment is to be carried out and how various alternatives are to be assessed.
The proposed planning programme shall be circulated for comment and presented for public scrutiny, and the time limit for submitting comments and input shall be a minimum of six weeks. It is important that central government and regional authorities, and possibly other authorities, provide clear input and give notice of potential conflicts with important national or regional considerations. This is important for the right to make an objection later in the process (read more about objections below). The municipal council has the authority to adopt the planning programme, but can delegate it to a different political body or the administration.
Arrangements shall be made for active public participation from residents, businesses, organisations, institutions and public bodies in the preparation of the land-use element of the municipal master plan. The proposal for the land-use element of the municipal master plan shall then be circulated for comment and presented for public scrutiny, with a minimum time limit of six weeks for submitting comments and input. Central government and regional authorities and other authorities can lodge a possible objection at this point. Private individuals can only make comments on the draft.
After comments and input have been considered, it is the municipal council that adopts the land-use element of the municipal master plan. Any alterations that the municipal council wishes to make to the plan that have not been circulated for comment or presented for public scrutiny must be taken up for renewed consideration. If there are still unresolved objections to the plan, the municipality shall send it to the county governor, who with his or her recommendation forwards it to the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development for a final decision.
The adopted plan shall be announced and made available to all. Appeals against the municipal council's decision on the land-use element of the municipal master plan are not permitted.
A zoning plan specifies the use, conservation and design of land and physical surroundings. It consists of a detailed land-use plan map with associated planning provisions and a plan description. The detail level of the plan depends on the purpose of the plan, and whether there is a need for further detailed planning for individual areas. While it is the municipal council that adopts the zoning plan, planning proposals can be put forward by other public actors, or by private actors.
An impact assessment is required for zoning plans that may have significant impacts on the environment or society.
When is the zoning plan supposed to be prepared?
A zoning plan shall always be drawn up before the municipal council can grant permission for major building and construction projects, and for other projects that may have significant impacts on the environment and society. Requirements can also be set for a zoning plan in the land-use element of the municipal master plan. In the municipal planning strategy, the municipality can decide which zoning plans the municipality itself, or in cooperation with other parties, will implement during the coming municipal council term of office. While there is no requirement for a zoning plan for licensable energy plants such as wind power plants, the municipality can prepare a plan for such installations.
Area zoning plan and detailed zoning plan
There are two types of zoning plans: area zoning plan and detailed zoning plan. The choice of plan type will depend on the level of detail desired and the purpose of the plan.
A detailed zoning plan is a plan for the implementation of building and construction projects, multi-use development and conservation. A detailed zoning plan is well suited when plans are to be made for limited projects. A detailed zoning plan is used to follow up and clarify the overall allocation of land in the land-use element of the municipal master plan or in an area zoning plan.
While everyone has the right to put forward proposals for detailed zoning plans, it is a statutory requirement that the plan is prepared by experts. The person who puts forward a proposal for a detailed zoning plan, the proposer, is entitled to have the proposal received and considered, and for the municipality to take a position on whether the proposal shall be put forward and presented for public scrutiny. The municipality can reject the planning proposal, both at start-up and before public scrutiny. The municipality can put forward alternative proposals.
An area zoning plan shows the use of the land and important connections in a larger area. While it is the municipality that prepares an area zoning plan, the municipality can leave it to other authorities and private individuals to carry out the planning work in cooperation with the municipality.
Land-use objectives in zoning plans
In a zoning plan, the land-use objectives shall be clearly stated for areas to which the plan applies. The land-use objective is shown in a planning map and depicts what types of functions that are to fill the area, what interests or risks exist and what is permitted within the plan.
Land-use objectives can be divided into sub-objectives, and combined with other land-use objectives, with zones requiring special consideration and lines, as well as point symbols and labels. The land-use objectives are shown with different colours in the map, which defines what is permitted within the delimited area. For example, the colour yellow on the planning map shows that the area will be used for housing. Light green can be agriculture, nature or recreation objectives, and purple shows commercial buildings. While the land-use objectives are the same for the municipal master plan and zoning plan, there are far more options for combinations and sub-objectives in a zoning plan.
Zones requiring special consideration in zoning plans
Zones requiring special consideration indicate which special considerations must be taken into account for a given area. Zones requiring special consideration are shown in the planning map and can be used regardless of land-use objective. A special consideration zone can run across different land-use objectives and other zones requiring special consideration. Examples of such zones in the zoning plan may be for danger zones for landslides and floods, areas restricted by other laws, e.g. conservation areas pursuant to the Natural Diversity Act or the Cultural Heritage Act, and noise zones. Zoning plans have the same types of zones requiring special consideration as the land-use element of the municipal master plan, but in the zoning plan the considerations can often be safeguarded by providing detailed provisions for the land-use objectives.
Provisions in zoning plans
The provisions shall supplement the land-use objectives and zones requiring special consideration shown on the zoning plan map and describe in more detail the conditions for the use of the land.
Provisions can be linked to one or more land-use objectives in the plan, or delimited by a special consideration zone. In addition, provisions can be issued that apply to the entire planning area. Planning maps and provisions are formally equivalent, and they must agree. The provisions are an elaboration of the limits established in the planning map itself. The frameworks for such provisions are set out in 14 points in the Act. Provisions that are not authorised in the Planning and Building Act are not valid.
A zoning plan shall be able to provide a direct basis for processing of building applications, and the provisions in the zoning plan help to establish the necessary framework for the building application. This may, for example, consist of setting design requirements, conditions for use or protection of nature or buildings, and setting requirements for a special order for the implementation of projects - provisions on order.
Zoning plans shall have a plan description that describes the plan's purpose, main contents and effects, and is adapted to the scope of the individual planning case. It is important that it provides an accurate and good presentation of the planning proposal, and how it alters the planning area and affects the surroundings. In order to provide the best possible basis for public participation and decisions, it is important that the plan description brings out all aspects of a plan and provides a thorough description of the planning proposal. For plans that may have significant impacts on the environment and society, the plan description shall be supplemented with a special assessment and description – an impact assessment – of the plan's impacts on the environment and society.
The legal effect of zoning plans
An adopted zoning plan is binding for future land use in the area, i.e. the zoning plan decides which use is permitted or prohibited. This means that projects or activities in conflict with the plan are not permitted.
The zoning plan does not in principle interfere with existing activities in the area to which it applies. It has no retroactive effect. While the legal effect of the plan applies to the implementation of new projects, planning provisions can in some cases also provide stricter requirements for existing activities, e.g. stricter noise requirements.
A building application submitted in accordance with the zoning plan shall be approved. The zoning plan is the basis for expropriation.
The legal effect of a zoning plan applies until a new binding plan for all or parts of the area has been adopted. The municipality is responsible for land-use planning, and the municipality can make new zoning plans or alter previous zoning plans as long as a developer has not been granted a building permit. In certain cases, the municipality may also grant a dispensation from the legal effects of the zoning plan.
Public participation in zoning plan processes
Zoning plans shall be processed in accordance with specific rules for public participation. The person who presents a planning proposal shall facilitate public participation, and the municipality shall make sure that this requirement is met. The municipality also has a special responsibility to include groups that require special facilitation. The rules concerning announcement, individual notification and public participation in the planning work ensure that landowners and other affected parties receive information and the opportunity to participate in the planning process. The rules for the preparation and implementation of zoning plans safeguard due process for individuals. The adopted zoning plan shall provide predictability for everyone who is affected by changes in land use.
The start-up phase
The planning work cannot start until the municipality has consented to this. A planning initiative shall be prepared before a private proposer can request a start-up meeting with the municipality. In the planning initiative, the proposer shall give an account of the project, describe local conditions and assumed impacts on the surroundings. The initiative often contains sketches, illustrations and other material that describes the project. The municipality can decide that a planning initiative shall be halted. The proposer can then demand that it be put before the municipal council for a final decision.
When the proposer is someone other than the planning authority itself, a start-up meeting shall be held. The purpose of the start-up meeting is to establish a common understanding between the proposer and the municipality about the prerequisites for the further planning work. The meeting shall contribute to predictability and reduce the risk that unresolved or unforeseen circumstances may complicate or delay the planning process.
Notification of the planning work shall always be given and the commencement of planning work shall be announced publicly. For certain plans with significant impacts on the environment and society, a proposal shall also be prepared for a planning programme, which shall be circulated for comment and presented for public scrutiny with a time limit of at least six weeks.
Prepare a zoning planning proposal
Once the planning work has been notified, the phase begins with developing planning solutions, preparing a zoning plan proposal, and possible impact assessment. When the zoning plan proposal is prepared, the necessary public participation from affected neighbours, landowners, organisations and authorities shall be facilitated. For larger zoning plans and plans in conflict with the municipal master plan, it is recommended to raise the matter in the regional planning forum at the start of or early in the planning phase. It may be relevant for the municipality to raise a private planning proposal for discussion in a regional planning forum if the municipality is considering putting a stop to the planning proposal at start-up.
When the proposer is a private actor, it will be expedient to have good and regular dialogue with the municipality while preparing the planning proposal. A good flow of information and cooperation between the proposer and the municipality contribute to better predictability in the process. It is common practice for the proposer and the administration to have a dialogue about the submitted planning proposal. Planning proposals that are put forward for political consideration are thus processed with regard to the totality that the municipality shall safeguard.
Consideration of the planning proposal and decision
When a proposal for a private zoning plan has been received by the municipality, the municipality shall, as soon as possible, and no later than within twelve weeks or another agreed time limit, decide whether the proposal is to be put forward and presented for public scrutiny. The planning proposal must meet the necessary requirements for zoning plans in order for the time limit to begin to run. The municipality may specify further requirements concerning presentation and content. The municipality is free to propose alternative proposals, make alterations to the plan before consultation and public scrutiny, or choose not to put forward the planning proposal.
If the municipality does not want to put forward the proposal, the proposer shall receive a letter with the reasons for the decision. A private proposer cannot appeal such a decision. If the municipality has refused to consider a planning proposal that is in accordance with the municipal master plan or area zoning plan, the proposer may demand that the rejection be put before the municipal council. Directly affected parties shall be notified of the final zoning decision and the decision shall be announced publicly.
The final planning proposal with any impact assessment shall be circulated for comment to the affected authorities, parties and interest groups, and presented for public scrutiny. A time limit of at least six weeks shall be set for comments on the planning proposal. Consultation and public scrutiny shall ensure that all those affected have the opportunity to comment on the planning proposal. The municipality shall make relevant background documents and technical reports available, also on the internet.
After the consultation, the municipality shall consider the comments received before sending the plan to the municipal council for a decision. If the plan has an impact assessment, the case presentation shall make it clear what significant impacts the plan will have on the environment and society, how the consultative comments are assessed and emphasised, and the conditions that are set to mitigate the significant impacts.
Zoning plans that must be decided by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development
Zoning plans have the same rules for objections as the land-use element of the municipal master plan. If the objection concerns clearly delimited areas, the municipal council can adopt the rest of the plan. The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development decides whether the objection is accepted and can make the changes that the Ministry deems necessary.
If a plan is contrary to national interests, regional plans or the land-use element of the municipal master plan, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development may revoke or alter a zoning plan even if no objection has been lodged.
Joint planning and building application
A planning and building application dealt with in a joint process requires the consent of both the municipality and the proposer/developer. The municipality notifies relevant rights holders, including for the building application. The time limit for comments is six weeks, and the municipality should be the addressee for any protests and comments. The plan must be adopted before a building permit can be granted and separate decisions must be made in the building application and the planning case.
Alterations to and revocation of a zoning plan
The same rules apply to alterations to and revocation of zoning plans as to the preparation of new plans. In the event of minor alterations that do not have an appreciable impact on affected parties or interests, the municipal council or delegated authority may decide to alter the plan or adopt supplements within the main features of the zoning plan. Major alterations must undergo a new consultation and be presented for public scrutiny so affected parties can comment on the alterations.
Zoning plans are adopted by the municipal council. The municipal council may delegate authority to adopt minor zoning plans pursuant to the provisions of the Local Government Act when the plan is in accordance with limits in the land-use element of the municipal master plan, and fewer than four years have elapsed since it was adopted by the municipal council.
Zoning plans are finally adopted by the municipal council if no objection has been made to the plan. Central government and regional authorities, the Sami Parliament and neighbouring municipalities may make objections to a plan. In the event of an objection, the county governor shall mediate. Plans with objections are decided by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development.
The municipality may not prepare zoning plans that include oil pipelines in the sea or major power lines, cf. section 1-3 of the Planning and Building Act on projects that are exempt from the Act.
The municipality shall ensure that zoning plans are prepared where it is stipulated in the land-use element of the municipal master plan, for all major building and construction projects, or where there is a need for more detailed plan clarification.
The municipality organises the work on the planning and establishes the committees that are necessary to carry out the planning.
The municipality shall ensure that arrangements are made for public participation in the planning work also when private individuals prepare draft plans.
The municipal council shall ensure that there is a special arrangement for safeguarding the interests of children and young people in the planning process.
The municipality shall use national or regional plans and guidelines in the planning process.
The municipality shall hold a start-up meeting where others than the municipality wish to prepare a draft zoning plan. Separate rules have been issued about the start-up phase in section 12-8 of the Planning and Building Act and Regulation no. 1950 of 12 August 2017 on the consideration of private proposals for detailed zoning plans pursuant to the Planning and Building Act. Minutes shall be kept of the start-up meeting. If the municipality finds that a private planning initiative should not succeed, the municipality may decide that the initiative shall be stopped. The municipality decides whether the planning programme is to be determined. The planning programme is ordinarily determined by the municipal council. The municipal council can delegate the authority to determine the planning programme.
The municipality shall consider proposals for detailed zoning plans from private or other public authorities and decide whether the plan shall be put forward, i.e. circulated for comment and presented for public scrutiny with a response time limit of at least six weeks. The planning proposal shall also be made available through electronic media. The municipality shall ensure that registered landowners and lessees, and as far as possible other rights holders in the planning area as well as neighbours shall, when they become directly affected, be informed in an appropriate manner of the proposed zoning plan and of where it is available. When the time limit for comment expires the municipality shall take the matter up for consideration with the comments received. The municipality may decide not to adopt the plan or return it for renewed consideration. The municipal council may then issue guidelines on consideration of the planning process.
Once the plan is adopted, registered landowners and lessees in the planning area, and as far as possible other rights holders in the planning area and neighbours of the planning area, shall, when they become directly affected, be specially notified by letter.
The municipality shall consider appeals against zoning decisions. If the municipality does not accept the appeal, the municipality shall send the case to the county governor for a final decision.
The municipality's authority and duties in connection with alterations to the zoning plan
For section 12-14 of the Planning and Building Act on alterations to and revocation of a zoning plan, the same provisions apply as for the preparation of a new plan. Alterations of zoning plans are adopted by the municipal council. The municipal council may delegate authority to alter a plan to a political committee or the municipality's administration, when the alteration will have little effect on the implementation of the plan in general, does not go beyond the main limits of the plan, and also does not affect due regard to important nature and outdoor recreation areas.
Before such a decision is made, the matter shall be put before affected authorities, and the owners and lessees of properties that are directly affected by the decision shall be given an opportunity to comment. Other affected parties shall also be given the opportunity to comment. See also section 1–9 of the Planning and Building Act on the relationship to the Public Administration Act and appeals.
Restrictions on use
Land-use plans prepared by the municipality, more specifically the land-use element of the municipal master plan and zoning plans, can entail severe restrictions on use for landowners. The main rule on compensation is nevertheless the same: Landowners are not entitled to compensation. Section 15-1 of the Planning and Building Act deals with the landowner's right to demand redemption in connection with the land-use element of the municipal master plan and section 15-2 deals with the landowner's right to demand redemption in connection with a zoning plan.
Dispensation from plans
The authority to grant dispensation lies with the municipality. Dispensation means that a developer is granted an exemption from plans and provisions by application. The municipality may grant a permanent or temporary dispensation from provisions laid down in or pursuant to this Act. Conditions can be set for the dispensation, cf. section 19-2 of the Planning and Building Act on the dispensation decision.
The municipality can grant dispensations that can be time limited or indefinite. The municipality can bring the temporary dispensation to an end through orders if considerations so require, cf. section 19-3 of the Planning and Building Act on temporary dispensation.
The commentary on the Act elaborates: The conditions must have the purpose of safeguarding the considerations set out in the planning part of section 1-1 of the Planning and Building Act on the purpose of the Act and section 3-1 on planning functions and considerations pursuant to the Act.
The municipality's power to grant dispensation is limited. It is required that the considerations behind the provision from which dispensation is granted are not significantly disregarded. In addition, a balancing of interests must be undertaken, where the advantages of the project must be weighed against the disadvantages. There must be a clear preponderance of considerations that indicate a dispensation. This means that there will normally be no power to grant a dispensation when the considerations behind the provision from which the dispensation is sought continue to apply with force.
The municipality is responsible for municipal planning in accordance with the Planning and Building Act, and shall also safeguard national and regional interests. The municipality decides how its land shall be used based on an overall assessment. The municipality is also responsible for ensuring that this takes place in a professionally sound manner, in accordance with the provisions of the Planning and Building Act. As a general rule, the municipality makes legally binding planning decisions, as long as it takes place within the framework and guidelines granted at the national and regional level.
If a planning proposal conflicts with national or significant regional interests, and/or other significant interests, the affected authorities may make an objection to the planning proposal.
The right to make objections only includes important conflict cases as part of the planning process, after ordinary public participation has been completed. It is a mutual duty for the municipalities and the sector authorities to have a dialogue and good cooperation throughout the planning process. This provides greater opportunities to find solutions during the planning process, without it becoming necessary to make a formal objection. By law, all regions shall have a regional planning forum. This will contribute to early clarification of disagreements, faster decisions, better coordination of conflicting interests and reduced levels of conflict.
Arrangement for objections
Central government and regional authorities are responsible for ensuring that important public interests are taken into account in land-use planning, such as soil conservation, climate, cultural heritage, public safety, the interests of children and young people, biodiversity and transport and communications considerations. To ensure that these interests are safeguarded in municipal plans, central government expert authorities and the county authority can make objections to a planning proposal. When an objection is made against municipal plans, this means that the plan cannot be adopted by the municipal council if the parties do not agree. The authority to make the final planning decision is then transferred to the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development.
Other affected municipalities may make objections to proposed plans in issues that are of significant importance to the municipality's residents, to the business community or the natural or cultural environment in the municipality, or to the municipality's own activities or planning. The Sami Parliament may make objections to issues that are of significant importance to Sami culture or commercial activities.
A substantiated objection shall be made as early as possible. An objection must be directly or indirectly related to the contents of the planning proposal and have significant significance for the sphere of responsibility of the authorities concerned. Most objections will concern conflicts between the municipality's wishes and needs, and national or significant regional interests in the use of the land. This may, for example, apply to the consideration of important commercial development or housing development in the municipality, assessed against the consideration of biodiversity, soil conservation or traffic conditions.
If the municipality does not accept the objection, the county governor shall mediate in the case between the municipality and the authority that has made an objection to the plan. The purpose of the mediation is to reach an agreement and find a solution in the case. It is a goal that objection cases are resolved locally as far as possible. More than 98% of all land-use plans in Norway are approved by the municipalities themselves, either because no objection is made, or because the objections are resolved through dialogue between the authorities. This is a clear indication that the interaction between the authorities to find acceptable solutions in land-use planning works.
If the objection still stands after the municipal council has considered the plan, the municipal council's planning decision is not final. The case must then be sent to the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development for a decision. The Ministry shall then decide whether the objection is to be accepted or whether the plan can be adopted, either as it is or with alterations. The Ministry may make the following decisions:
- The plan is approved. The objection is denied.
- The plan is not approved. The objection is accepted.
- The plan is approved with alterations. The objection is then fully or partially accepted.
The Ministry's decision cannot be appealed.
The Planning and Building Act has a statutory requirement for public participation in planning processes in section 5-1.
The duty to facilitate active public participation is the same for both public authorities and private proposers. As a planning authority, the municipality has a special duty to ensure that other authorities and private individuals have complied with the requirement for facilitation of public participation when they have prepared the planning proposal. The municipality shall also ensure the public participation of groups whose views are not otherwise easily heard in the planning process, such as children and young people and people with disabilities.
Public participation in the planning process is important in order to ensure that plans and projects are in accordance with the interests and needs of the population, and for the legal protection of those who are affected by a plan. Public participation shall contribute to high legitimacy and broad anchoring of the plan, both politically and in the local community. Good public participation can also clarify conflicts before the plans are adopted and contribute to equal treatment. Input early in the planning process provides a greater opportunity to influence the design of the planning proposal. The Act provides the opportunity for input and influence throughout the course of a planning process. Public participation is promoted in the preparation of regional and municipal planning strategies, planning programmes, plan descriptions and impact assessments, consultation and public scrutiny. Strategies and planning proposals shall be available on the Internet.
There is a right of appeal against all individual decisions and zoning plan decisions. There is no right of appeal against decisions of the municipal master plan's land-use element, social element, or municipal sub-plans.
The municipal council's decision to adopt or alter a zoning plan can be appealed, but only in one round. The time limit for lodging an appeal is usually three weeks after the affected parties have been made aware of the decision. The municipality has a duty to notify and clarify when there is a right of appeal. There is also a general right of access to planning proposals.
Only positive decisions can be appealed. There is therefore no right of appeal against a decision not to adopt a plan. The authority to decide on appeals has been transferred to the county governor. The planning decision can be appealed to the county governor by parties with a legal interest in appealing, such as an affected neighbour. If the county governor is of the opinion that amendments should be made to the decision and the municipality does not agree with the amendments, the appeal must be sent to the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development for a decision.
The main rule is that development shall take place within the limits of an adopted plan. The project must be in accordance with both current land-use plans and material rules laid down in the Act and associated regulations. A developer may, upon application to the municipality, be granted an exemption from plans and provisions. This presupposes that the considerations behind the provision from which dispensation is granted are not significantly disregarded. In addition, a balancing of interests must be undertaken where the advantages of the project must clearly outweigh the disadvantages.
The dispensation provision is justified on the basis that in individual cases there may be a need to make exceptions or deviations. Dispensation can be considered a practical safety valve. The nature of projects covered by the Act can differ greatly. Geographical and other local conditions can vary. Plans are in effect for a long period of time and both the conditions and the surroundings change. In addition, it will be unnecessarily resource-intensive for smaller projects to carry out a plan alteration with the more extensive administrative proceedings required for this, particularly where the deviation from the plan itself is not disputed or controversial.
Dispensation requires application. Grounds for the application shall be given and notice must be given to neighbours and affected central government and regional authorities. The municipality should not grant a dispensation if these authorities advise against it. Dispensation decisions can be appealed.
The dispensation does not alter the plan, but is a permit to deviate from it in the individual case. If a dispensation application entails a significant and permanent deviation from the plan, such alterations should be treated as zoning changes. Municipalities can introduce a fee for dispensation applications.
Demand for dispensations in the shore zone is particularly high. Central government planning guidelines for differentiated management of the shoreline shall be used as a basis for considering dispensations in the shore zone.
The purpose of impact assessments is to clarify what kind of consequences planning work can have for the environment and society. An impact assessment (IA) is required for all plans that may have significant impacts on the environment or society.
The Planning and Building Act sets the framework for which plans are to have a planning programme and impact assessment. The regulations on impact assessments (IA regulations) describe in more detail the rules and requirements for planning programmes and impact assessments.
Background for impact assessments
The purpose of setting requirements for impact assessments is to ensure that environmental and social considerations are taken into account when deciding whether a plan can be implemented and how it will be done. The principle is that decisions concerning land use shall be based on an informed and knowledge-based basis. A good impact assessment gives decision-makers the opportunity to have better knowledge of the consequences of new development and changed use of land, and thus a better basis for deciding whether the development is acceptable or not.
The impact assessment
- is an integral part of a planning process
- is an important democratic tool
- contributes to enabling both those who are affected by a plan and public sector authorities to assess the quality of the decision-making basis, and provides a satisfactory account of the planning proposal's impacts on the environment and society.
The municipality has a particularly important role as the responsible authority for plans pursuant to the Planning and Building Act, and for plans that are covered by requirements for impact assessments. The municipality is responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the regulations are followed.
Which plans are covered by the requirements for an impact assessment?
Sections 6 and 8 of the regulations state which plans are covered by requirements for planning programmes and impact assessments. The regulations also have two appendices that list a number of major types of projects.
For municipal master plans, there are always requirements for a planning programme and for an impact assessment when the plan facilitates the development of new areas or significantly changed use of land in existing building areas. There will therefore normally always be a requirement for impact assessment in connection with revision of the land-use element of the municipal master plan, and the requirement applies to all new areas that are proposed for development.
An impact assessment is required for all zoning plans that may have significant impacts on the environment or society. The regulations relating to impact assessments specify in more detail which zoning plans exist, and which also require a planning programme.
The municipality is responsible for deciding whether a zoning plan falls under the provisions of the regulations, and this shall be done before notification of the start-up of the plan.
Process for planning programme
The purpose of the planning programme is to strengthen the initial phase of the planning work.
For plans with requirements for a planning programme and impact assessment, the planning programme is particularly important for laying down the necessary premises that govern the assessment work.
The planning programme shall be circulated for comment and presented for public scrutiny, at the same time as notification of the start of the plan. A time limit of at least six weeks shall be set for comments. After consultation, the municipality shall determine the planning programme.
Process for impact assessment
An impact assessment shall be carried out in accordance with recognised methodology and executed by persons with relevant professional competence. The impact assessment shall be fact-based, reliable and objective. Political considerations shall not be part of an impact assessment.
Impact assessments are part of the plan, and shall be circulated for comment together with the planning proposal. A time limit of at least six weeks shall be set for commenting on the planning proposal with an impact assessment. Central government and regional authorities may make an objection to a plan on the basis of a poor quality or deficient impact assessment.
The contents of the impact assessment
The impact assessment shall account for the assets that exist in an area, and how these assets will be affected by new use of land or a development project. The IA regulations provide an overview of important factors on which the planning proposal may have an impact and which shall be assessed, such as biodiversity, cultural heritage, soil conservation and health. A non-technical summary of the impact assessment shall be prepared, which should be comprehensible to those who do not have professional competence.
The contents and scope of the impact assessment shall be adapted to the relevant plan, and be relevant to the decisions to be made. The regulations concerning impact assessments for plans pursuant to the Planning and Building Act operate with two levels: impact assessment at the overall planning level, for example for the land-use element of the municipal master plan, and impact assessment at the project measure level, for example for a detailed zoning plan.
Impact assessment for general plans
The work on general plans often has a long-term and holistic perspective at an overview level. Thus, impact assessment will also have a focus on the impact of strategic choices made in the plan.
The focus of the impact assessments should be to answer questions related to location and land use, such as:
- What important environmental and societal values are found in the proposed development areas?
- What effects does development or new use of land have on these values?
- What should be done to mitigate the negative effects?
If, for example, plans call for building homes in a forest area in the municipal master plan, this presupposes in part that outdoor interests and the natural assets in the area are known and that the planning proposal's impact on these assets is adequately assessed in the impact assessment. In this way, the municipal council will have a better decision-making basis when it decides whether development on this land is justifiable.
The land-use element of the municipal master plan also requires assessment of the impacts of the overall changes in land use in the plan. Such an overall assessment will provide a total picture of what the changes in land use in the planning proposal will mean for various environmental and social considerations. For example, it will reveal how the planning proposal will impact the agricultural assets in the municipality. By looking at the impact of the sum total on agriculture, it will be easier to assess whether the municipal planning proposal complies with the overall objectives for soil conservation, or the municipality's own ambitions for the preservation of farmland.
Impact assessment for detailed plan
When a development project is to be zoned, whether it is through the use of an area zoning plan or detailed zoning plan, a specific assessment must be made of whether the development project falls within the scope of the regulations and therefore has IA requirements. This applies even if the area's land use was impact assessed at an overall planning level.
Where the impact assessment for the overall plan focuses on the effects of the reassignment of land, land use and strategic choices in the plan, the impact assessment at the detailed planning level will involve an assessment of how the specific development will affect the environment and society. The detailed level usually provides more information about design, location, physical alteration of the land and impact on the landscape, as well as factors such as the development project's need for energy, traffic load and emissions. It is then important that the consequences of the more detailed conditions in the plan are identified and assessed in the impact assessment.