Circular economy in urban planning and building permits
This article presents the urban planning and building regulation in four European cities: Copenhagen, Hamburg, Vantaa and London. It presents the possibilities the city administrations have for including requirements for circular economy (CE) and construction in their urban planning policy instruments and procedures. It covers the reuse and recycling of building products and materials, adaptive reuse and refurbishment, and design for disassembly.
There are three hierarchical levels of urban planning: national, municipal and local. The municipalities (of which there are 98) are responsible for translating national planning (the Planning Act) through municipal plans and local development plans. The Planning Act is developed by the Ministry of the Interior and Housing, with the aim of providing coherent planning, ensuing the balance of social interests within a sustainable approach. A municipal plan sets the overall targets and guidelines for the individual municipality's development for a period of 12 years. Copenhagen’s Plan produced in 2019, has a number of commitments related to circularity in construction, including a promise of reusing building materials to its furthest extent and designating at least one physical material exchange site to be used in new construction. Local plans are prepared regularly when needed, however the local council must adopt a local plan before initiating major development projects. Local plans can regulate many factors related to use, size and location of buildings, roads and paths, and the architectural features of an area.
The Building Act is the general set of rules that all permanent construction work in Denmark must comply with. The specific requirements for construction are defined in the Building Code, which specifies the requirements of the Building Act and contains more detailed requirements. The local council is the building authority that makes decisions under the Building Act regarding building permits, and all applications for building permits are assessed regarding the relevant local plan for the area and the current building code at the time of application. Recently, the Voluntary Sustainability Class which aims at promoting sustainable construction beyond the regulatory demands set by the building code has been developed by the national government; this is currently being tested on selected construction projects, with an aim of providing data and a foundation for permanent changes to the Building Act in the coming years.
The legal basis for urban planning in Germany is the German Federal Building Code “Baugesetzbuch (BauGB)”. The Building Code regulates formal procedures for drawing up various plans. Urban development law in Germany is federal law (regional); its legal sources are the BauGB and the regulations based upon this, in particular the Land Utilisation Regulation (BauNVO). Building law is divided into public and private building law. Private building law is the legal relationship between builder, architect and contractor (work contract law, warranty claims). Public building law includes the regulations on the permissibility and limits, order and promotion of the use of land and property by means of building structures, primarily with regard to their construction, (intended) use, (substantial) alteration and removal (building planning law and building regulations law). Within the public building law, a distinction is made between the building planning law and the building regulations law (state matter, HBauO). Federal urban development law is supplemented by numerous other areas of law which contain special legal regulations for building, some of which apply to all building projects, some of which apply to building projects in special local locations, and some of which apply only to special buildings. Municipalities are responsible for the land use plan (preparatory land-use plan - FNP) and the development plan (binding land-use plan). The FNP is a formal planning instrument for the entire city and forms the basis of an orderly urban development for the Hamburg urban area. Binding land use plans are developed from FNP and show what is permissible on a site.
The building code law (“Bauordnungsrecht”) is essentially under the sovereignty of the German states; hence, all states, such as the Hamburg City state, have issued their own building regulations. It deals with the structural-technical requirements for construction projects and primarily regulates the prevention of dangers arising from the construction, existence and use of constructional facilities. The building codes of the federal states contain the regulations on the building permit procedure and building supervision. In addition, the building regulations of the federal states contain structural design provisions based on the BauGB (“Baugesetzbuch”), which can be issued either as part of a development plan or on the basis of other statutes. In Hamburg, building law is essentially regulated in the Hamburg Building Code HBauO (“Hamburgische Bauordnung”). A building permit is required for the construction, modification (e.g., conversion), change of use and demolition of buildings and other structures.
There is a four-tier system in Finland. The Finnish Land Use and Building Act (1999/132) regulates spatial planning in Finland; this is implemented through regional land use plans by 21 Regional Councils, where the overall guidelines are incorporated and in more detail in municipal master plans and local detailed plans (city plans). The main goal is to create the conditions for a good living environment and its development. The Land Use and Building Act includes the National Building Code which consists of actual decrees that are mandatory. The municipal master plan presents the general guidance regarding the community structure and the principles of targeted development and defines the areas for detailed planning, building and other land use. A city plan presents a detailed organisation of land use, building and development. It defines e.g., location, size and purposed use of buildings.
The Land Use and Building Act includes the National Building Code which consists of actual decrees that are mandatory. These regulations are specified further and complemented by Municipal Building Ordinance. Having a building ordinance is obligatory in every municipality. It may contain different regulations for different areas and it issues regulations that are based on local conditions and that are necessary for organised and appropriate building. A building permit is required for the construction of a building and for repair and alteration work comparable to that, extending of a building, increasing its gross floor area or demolition of a building. A building permit may not be granted if it hinders implementation of the local master plan or the city plan.
There is legislation governing planning in England that defines what constitutes development and therefore what requires planning permission. Legislation also sets out the legal framework for plan making and decision making. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government’s planning policies and how these are expected to be applied by lower tier governments / plan makers, developers and communities. The NPPF is intended as a framework for producing distinctive city wide, local and neighbourhood plans and development orders that meet local needs. Previously regional strategies were used to plan strategies across local authority borders, however this was abolished. However, in London, the Mayor is responsible for producing a strategic spatial development plan for the capital – the London Plan. The Mayor also has powers to determine certain planning applications of strategic importance. Local plans are prepared by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs), the municipalities and set planning policies for the future development of the area and in deciding planning applications. Local plans in London must be in general conformity with the London Plan. Local plans are part of a Local Authority’s Development Plan, a key set of documents which inform decisions on planning applications. A London Borough’s Development Plan consists of any locally adopted Development Plan Documents (such as the Local Plan) and the London Plan and any neighbourhood plans which have been successful at examination and referendum.
The Building Regulations in England set out what qualifies as ‘building work’ and so falls under the control of the regulations, what types of buildings are exempt (such as temporary buildings) and the notification procedures that must be followed when starting, carrying out, and completing building work. Building work must also meet technical requirements as outlined in a series of approved documents. A building permit is referred to as building regulations approvals and are provided either by the building control body (BCB) of the local authority or from a private approved inspector. Applications are made depending on the type of work that will be carried out.
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