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Spatial Planning in Norway

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Spatial Planning Norway

The Norwegian Planning System


Unn Elphsen






The ownership of land has a very strong position in Norway. The landowners can use the land as they wish, unless restrictions are laid down. The Planning- and Building Act contains a legal basis for such restrictions along with several sector acts. In fact the landowners are therefore not free to use their property as they wish.


Private ownership is dominating as concerning land in the building areas. But the public is mostly the owner of traffic areas and leisure areas. There is more balance in the public and private ownership as concerning areas of business, industry and technical installations.


Norway is divided into counties and municipalities. On the county level the administrative unit is called County Municipality. Both the County Municipalities and the Municipalities have public elected bodies that have the power to decide on the policy within each county or municipality. These bodies are elected every four years.


In Norway we have an extensive system of local self-government. It is up to each County Municipality and Municipality to organize its activities. Each county municipality and municipality has its own administration. The administration prepares the matters to be dealt with by the political bodies, that is the county council and the municipality council. The County Municipalities and municipalities are, to a large extent, free to choose how to organize their administrative bodies.


The State also has an administration in each county, - the County Governor. These government officials are by law given different tasks as related to control the municipal administration. The County Governor has a strong position in matters concerning planning and building. The County governor has a special environment protection division in his administration, which has responsibility regarding nature conservation and protection against pollution.


Furthermore, the State has other administrative bodies in the counties and in the municipalities that deal with certain matters according to sector laws, such as the county agricultural and forestry offices.




According to the Planning and Building Act, planning is intended to be an integrated physical and economic planning, including also other aspects of society.


A characteristic feature of the regional planning system in Norway is that the authority to prepare and approve coordinated physical and economic plans for the municipalities and counties is placed with the public elected bodies, the County Councils and the Municipal Councils.


The Planning and Building Act has provisions on the ability to render administrative decisions in the form of legally binding plans that impose restrictions on the use of land. The land-use part of the Master Plan and also the Local Plan and the Building Development Plan are plans that are legally binding. The Local Plan and the Building Development Plan are enough to expropriate land against fully economic compensation.


The municipalities have the authority to approve of legally binding plans if the county municipality and the national expert authorities have had no objections to the draft plan of if it has been altered because of the objections.


I will now present the system of planning on the different levels which are in force to day.



National Planning

In relation to local planning, the function of the central authorities is largely advisory. But as the local planning must be carried out within national goals and guidelines, the central authorities must set up the political platform of the planning.


The political platform is built up by political decisions made by the National Assembly, especially in dealing with parliamentary reports. The government, and often the ministries, send out directives on goals concerning planning.


The Planning and Building Act has furthermore provisions concerning national goals. The act decrees that the King in council shall be able to establish general guidelines for planning in pursuance of the act and furthermore can impose a ban on certain areas in order to take care of national and regional interests.



The county level

At the County level, the County Council, the County Governor and the national expert authorities all have an important part in the planning process.


The County Municipality are responsible for preparing the County Plan. This is a general plan for the county, dealing with natural resources, development and protective measure in the county. It is intended that the county planning shall coordinate the main feature of national activities in the county. The County Council, which is a publicly elected body, is responsible for ensuring that this intention is carried out, and for the organisation of the work involved.


The Planning and Building Act describes the County Plan as a comprehensive plan for the coordination of national, county and municipal planning in connection with the utilization of natural resources in a county, and other questions of common interests for the simulation of economic growth and welfare in the county. The professional content of the plan is summarised in the Act, and is fairly extensive.


Key words in this connection are;

* Natural resources

* Population and settlement

* Labour market situation and general trends in business and industry

* Measures necessary to implement the plan

* Economic consideration


The county is responsible for insuring that a county plan is prepared, and has sole political and administrative responsibility for the planning. The County Plan is considered a document of such importance and approved by the Government. The Ministry of Environment is responsible for arranging for this approval.


The County Plans affect both the municipalities and the State.


A County Plan is not legally binding. But the plans are guidelines that the municipalities must act within.



The municipal level


The municipalities are required to ensure that comprehensive plans are continually prepared. Such a comprehensive plan is called a Municipal Master Plan.


The Municipal Mater Plan shall coordinate the physical, economic, social and cultural planning in the municipality. This comprehensive planning is the responsibility of the public elected Municipal Council.


The Master Plan shall consist of a long-term part and a short-term part.

The long-term part comprises:

- goals for the development in the municipality, guidelines for sector planning and a land-use plan for the management of land and other natural resources. The land-use plan is legally binding.

The short-term part comprises:

- an integrated programme of action for sector activity in the next few years.


The Master Plan shall serve three main purposes:

- It shall provide a total overview of the goals and guidelines for the development in the municipality.

- It shall provide information and frameworks for national, county and private enterprises.

- It shall stipulate guidelines for the municipality's own planning in the different sectors.


At least once in the course of every election period (every forth year) the Municipal Council shall evaluate the Municipal Master Plan as a whole, hereunder whether it is necessary to make any alterations in the plan.

The Ministry of Environment shall ensure that the obligation to carry out continuous planning is complied with.

The county shall as far as possible give the municipality professional planning assistance and guidance.


At an early stage in the preparations the municipality shall seek cooperation with public authorities, organizations etc. who are particularly interested in the municipal planning work.


The main principle of the law is that each municipality has the authority to adopt its own Master Plan. But to make sure that the municipalities carry out their physical planning according to national an regional goals and guidelines, the law has introduced a system of so-called objections, that is that public authorities on state and county level may object to the draft of the land-use part of the Master Plan, with the consequence that it must be approved by the Ministry of Environment unless the draft is altered.


As the rest of the Municipal Master Plan is concerned, there is to day no system of central approval. The total Masterplan when adopted by the Municipal Council, is however; to be sent to the Ministry, the County Governor, the County Municipality and the affected expert authorities for information.

Control of land use &endash; the land related part of the Municipal Mater Plan

Through the land-related part of the Municipal Master Plan, it is possible to divide the municipality into different areas in a legally binding way. These areas are as following:


1. build- up areas

2. agricultural areas, nature areas and areas for open-air recreation

3. area for extraction of raw materials

4. areaswhere the land is already reserved for a specific purpose or is to be reserved for a specific purpose pursuant to this or another Act, and areas for defence purposes

5. use and protection of watercourses and sea areas near the coast

6. important links in the system of communications


It is possible to supplement these areas with supplementary provisions, which also are legally binding.


For example in the case of areas reserved for extraction of raw materials, provisions may be issued that development only can take place in accordance with a detailed plan.


The consequence of the land-use part of the Master Plan being legally binding is that building work, constructions and extraction of raw material con not be executed in conflict with the land-use plan with provisions, unless otherwise decided. The same applies to other measures which may be of major disadvantage for implementation of the plan. After concrete evaluation, the Building Council may grant dispensation in the individual case.



Local Physical Development Plans

The Building Council shall prepare Local Plans for land use in accordance with the directives of the Municipal Council.


A Local Plan is a plan with associated rules, regulating the use and protection of land, watercourses, sea areas, buildings and the external environment in specific areas of a municipality within the framework defined in the Planning and Building Act.

To the extent necessary the land can be earmarked for specific purposes in a local Plan, also special areas &endash; areas for extraction of raw material.

To the extent necessary a Local Plan may include regulations concerning the design and use of land and buildings in the regulated area.


An adopted Local Plan is immediately legally binding. Furthermore, the Municipal Council can decide to expropriate land in order to execute a Local Plan. Therefore the Act gives the owners of property without buildings a right to demand that the expropriation is fulfilled at once.



The planning process

As early as possible after the start of the work of a new plan or an alteration of a plan, the Building Council is obliged to seek cooperation with the public authorities, private organisations etc. who are interested in the planning work so that they can clarify the different interests connected with the use of the area being regulated.


The landowners and tenants shall be notified by letter when the planning is started, and when the draft plan is available.


When a proposed Local Plan is completed it shall be made available for public inspection following announcement in at least two local newspapers with a wide circulation in the district. The announcement shall clearly define the area to which the proposal refers, and shall stipulate a reasonable time for comment.

If any comment is received, the Building Council shall take the proposal up for renewed consideration. When the Building Council has completed its consideration of the proposal, the proposal shall be submitted to the Municipal Council via the Municipal Executive Board.


The Municipal Council has the authority to approve a Local Plan, within the frames of national and regional goals and guidelines. That means that the Municipal Council can approve the plan, if there has come no objections, or if the proposal has been altered in accordance with the objections. If not, the plan has to be approved by the Ministry of Environment.



Building Development Plan

A Building Development Plan is a plan adopted by the Building Council , responsible for establishing land-use and the design of buildings installations and associated external areas within a special limited area where the land use part of the Municipal Mater Plan or the Local Plan requires such a basis for development.


A Building Development Plan has an equivalent legal effect as the Local Plan.



Briefly about the right to appeal

Decisions on a Local Plan and a Building development plan may be appealed by a party or another person having a so-called legal interest in appealing the case. According to the act the Ministry is the institution of appeal, but this function is delegated to the County Governors.


In Norway we also have the institute of a Parliamentary Commissioner for the public administration. He will give his opinion on matters after request from individuals, and the public administration will follow his advise, although it is not legally binding.



The Ministry's interference in local planning decisions

If the Ministry finds that a land-use part of a Municipal Master Plan or a Local Plan, that have been finally decided on in the Municipality, conflict with national interests, the County Plan, or if it is the Local Plan &endash; conflict the Master Plan, the Ministry can cancel the plan and make such changes as found to be necessary. The changes must, however, not lead to any change in the main feature of the actual plan.





I have given a survey of the planning legislation in Norway in accordance with the Planning- and Building Act. I will now proceed to the formal provisions concerning building permission (planning permission) and similar systems.


The Norwegian system implies that the use of land and natural resources are controlled by legally binding plans according to the Planning- and Building Act and according to different sector acts that implement systems of material permissions.

The Planning- and Building Act, however, do not comprise systems of material permission. It only comprises a system of formal permission, called building permission, cf section 93 and a system of notification, cf section 84 and 81.


According to Section 93 &endash; Following work require a building permission to day:


- construction of a building

- alteration and repair on a existing building

- reconstruction of the exterior of a building

- conversion of a building, when this conflicts with a Local Development Plan or a Building Development Plan

- construction of a fence or wall toward a road

- demolition of a building, except when the demolition takes place at the order of the Building Council

- change of the use of a building or part of a building.


A permission pursuant to section 93 is not required for work carried out pursuant to section 81, 84, 85, 86a and 86b.

Excavation, including super quarries, is to day only to be notified pursuant to section 81. Section 84 deals with excavation and constructions that do not require a building permission, only notification.

According to section 81 such a notification is to be send to the Building Council. The notification must comprise at statement that the work will be carried out in accordance with the provisions laid down in or pursuant to this section.

The notification shall be in writing and shall contain information about the plans on which the work will be based.

It shall further be evident that neighbours have been notifies about the work. The work may be carried out three weeks after the notification has been received by the Building Council. When special reasons exist, the Building Council may postpone the date for the start of work by further three weeks.


The purpose of these systems of formal permissions and notification is that the Building Council shall have a possibility to control that the present provisions and legally binding plans are followed. If that is the case, the permission must be given, unless the Building Council wishes to replan the area concerned. If that is the case, the Council must lay a temporary ban on the area pursuant to section 33.





The Ministry of Local Government and Labour is preparing amendments in these sections, wishing to drop the system of notification, proposing that section 93 on building permission also shall contain the different sorts of work listed in section 84 today. The consequence of such an amendment will be that excavations also will need a formal permission in the future.


Such an amendment will have as a result that excavations cannot be undertaken before a Local Development Plan is adopted, cf section 23 nr 1 last sentence about the obligation to prepare Local Plans.





Our Planning- and Building Act has special procedure provisions that are to be followed before any decision is taken whether a larger project can be carried out or not.


The purpose of environmental impact assessment is to assess the effect of proposed projects that have significant impact on the environment, natural resources and the community. Environmental impact assessment is intended to ensure that such effects are taken into account in the planning of projects when a decision is taken as to whether and, in the event, under what conditions a project may be carried out.


The developer shall send a notification of any project falling within the scope of the regulations issued pursuant to the Act. Such regulations are adopted by the King in Council on the 27th of July 1990. The environmental assessment regulations given by the King in Council comprise a list of different projects that shall be notified. Cf section 2. Excavation is included in section 2 litera in the regulations which has this text:

"establishment or expansion of workings for ore, minerals, rock, gravel, sand, clay or similar for commercial purposes, industrial exploitation, and so forth, if at least a total of 50 000 m2 is been worked, or if the total workings comprise of more than 500 000 cubic meter of substances mentioned above."


The developer shall send the notification to the Ministry who has the administrative responsibility of such projects, and to the municipality, the county municipality and to the County Governor. The Ministry shall make the notification accessible to the public and distribute it for comment to the authorities and to professional and industrial bodies. If the notification does not contain the necessary information, environmental impact assessment shall be carried out, if it is believed that a project will have significant impacts on the environment, natural resources or the community.


The Ministry involved shall in collaboration with the Ministry of environment decide, on the basis of the notification and the comments received, whether or not to require an environmental impact assessment. If such an assessment is required, the Ministry shall determine the assessment programme on the basis of the comments on the notification.

On the basis of the stipulated assessment programme, the environmental impact assessment shall contain the necessary assessment of impact of the project on the environment, natural resources and the community. Practicable alternatives shall be described, and measures can mitigate adverse effects and inconveniences.


Environmental impact assessment shall be sent to the municipality, the county municipality and the County Governor concerned. The assessments shall be distributed for comments, and there is to be held at public meeting to discuss it. The Ministry shall decide whether the environmental impact assessment satisfies the requirements. The developer has to pay the cost of the assessment. An environmental impact assessment shall be available at the same time as the application for approval of the project according to the Planning- and Building Act or any other law.




The Ministry is responsible for the provisions in the Planning and Building Act regarding environmental impact assessments.

The purpose is to ensure that significant effects on the environment, natural resources or the community, are taken into account during the planning of projects and when decision is taken.

The duty to carry out an EIA lies with the developer.

It is mandatory to carry out an EIA for projects listed in regulations given by Royal Deere.

Ministry of Environment, Norway






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