THE PAPER | The Role of Civil Society & Opportunities for Public Participation in Planning Matters

THE PAPER | The Role of Civil Society & Opportunities for Public Participation in Planning Matters

By Mart Hiob and Nele Nutt
 Department of Landscape Architecture, Tallinn University of Technology, 
Tartu College, Tartu, Estonia

THE PAPER | The Role of Civil Society & Opportunities for Public Participation in Planning Matters

Image Attribute: Tallinn, Estonia. Author Diego Delso. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share

In countries with European style planning cultures, a term, local government planning monopoly, is used to describe the jurisdiction, the rights and the obligations of the local government; this means that the local government has complete control over all issues of planning. The European Charter of Local Self-Government that was ratified by Estonia also emphasizes this fact; it states that the local government has complete control and exclusive rights within its area of authority (Charter article 4, section 4). Spatial planning of their own territory is the duty of the local government in Estonia and in all democratic European countries. While planning decisions are made, it is the duty of the local government to do the following: pay attention to the existing laws and state level planning documents and to all restrictions created by the laws, cooperate with the local community, with state institutions, with non-profit organizations, and with other people who are interested in the matter, and guarantee that various interests are all taken into account.

As such, local government planning monopoly means that only the local government has the right to make planning decisions on its territory. However, it also means that the local government is fully responsible for guaranteeing that the decisions are legal and legitimate. Since the local government and the municipal council are the chosen representatives of the local community, the local government planning monopoly, in the European sense, is actually the local community planning monopoly. This, in turn, means that the local government is obligated to fulfill the preferences of the local community in the process of making planning and building decisions, at the same time sustaining the rights of plot owners and developers.

This cannot be done without the local community actively taking part in the planning process. Local government often yields to the pressure of real estate owners, who often impose solutions that are unsuitable for the local community, in order to maximize their profits. This is usually the reason for planning conflicts. Often, the local government does not offer sufficient possibilities for the local community to actively and extensively take part in the planning process, and the decisions are made in spite of popular protests from the community.

In order for the planning process to be successful it is necessary that the local community, the local government, and the planner, all play their proper role. The local residents have the first-hand knowledge about the details in the planned area. Their experiential knowledge should be taken into account to create sustainable development options. 

In Estonia, it is often said that the local government does not have the  necessary specialists who could compile comprehensive plans, and therefore a consultant has to be hired. Often, this results in preparation of all planning documents by private companies. 

In theory, compiling plans and planning development should be an interdisciplinary team process lead by the local government with active local community participation. It is a process that requires cooperation and negotiating agreements, and even the most qualified expert cannot make effective locally sensitive decisions instead of the local government institutions and the local community. Estimating developments, motivating conclusions, and assessing the effects are necessary for public cooperation, which will result in planning decisions that will improve the local life while taking into account and further developing the environmental assets. 

The main message of the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Council of Europe, 1985) is summed up in the § 1 subsection 3 of the Planning Act, which states that spatial planning is democratic, it coordinates and integrates development plans of different areas, is functional, and is a process of planning long-term spatial development, which takes into account the long-term tendencies and demands of the development of the economic, social and cultural environment as well as the natural environment. 

In a situation where the role of local community and even of the municipality is reduced, this aim cannot be achieved.

Cite this Article:

HIOB, Mart, & Nele NUTT. "Spatial Planning in Estonia – From A Socialist to Inclusive Perspective." Transylvanian Review of Administrative Sciences [Online], 12.47 (2016): 63-79. Web. 21 Jul. 2016 |  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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