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Tallinn terminates dozens of inactive urban planning procedures

Road works in Tallinn's Kesklinn on October 17, 2023.
Road works in Tallinn's Kesklinn on October 17, 2023. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In the space of just two weeks, the City of Tallinn has terminated 50 planning procedures, which had been inactive for years, and the clean-up of the planning register continues. Some of the plans had been on the planning register for more than twenty years.

Over a two-week period, Tallinn City Council has decided to bring an end to 52 inactive planning procedures. Some plans have been in place for over 20 years, others for six. The average length of the newly-closed procedures is around ten years, Tallinn Deputy Mayor Madle Lippus (SDE) told ERR. The city plans to make further decisions on other similar cases in the coming weeks.

"Owners have been informed that their detailed planning procedure has been inactive for a long time and now the plan is to terminate it. The reason for the termination is often that they were initiated so long ago and the urban planning considerations have changed so much that, regardless, the authorities would have to issue new basic conditions," Lippus said.

"In these cases, it makes sense to start again from scratch. Going ahead according to the old procedure would not give the developer any time advantage either, because it would make the procedure much more confusing and complicated," Lippus said.

Developers have also been informed in cases where the city plans to finalize detailed planning procedures. In some cases the developer's consent was obtained, but in many cases the city received no response. "Or, for example, the association, which applied may have been wound up. Up to now, there has been one case in which it was said, 'no, in fact we would like to go ahead with the procedure.' However, since the urban planning considerations are out of date, the authority is now drawing up new basic condition, and I think we have also received a new (initial) application for this," Lippus said.

There are also other cases in which a detailed plan has been initiated, but at some point the developer was issued with planning conditions and gone ahead. "It's just that another method has been chosen in order to achieve the goal, so to speak," said Lippus.

Investigations into procedures that have been on hold for years will move forward.

Another reason for the closure of the inactive procedures is due to a change in the law since their initiation. In 2015, a new planning law came into force, requiring detailed planning procedures initiated before the law came into force be completed by July 1, 2018 at the latest. In other words, the amount of time deemed reasonable between the initiation of a detailed plan and its enactment is, according to law, three years.

Tallinn, however, is full of squares, which have been empty for years, contain an empty building, or a temporary parking lot, as is the case on the former site of the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA).

"We're starting to get some clarity, there's a lot of planning and a lot of places, there really are a lot of them. We've now got the planning for this EKA site in place and we're going to start building there. And that's very nice, because, for a really long time, it was a kind of parking lot in the middle of the city. It's these kinds of parking lots or uses of the land that don't enrich the cityscape and we can certainly do something to help reduce them in the city center," Lippus said.

The deputy mayor said the next step would be to establish which procedures on the planning register are actually active.

"We actually still have procedures, which may not have been dormant for 10 or 20 years, but which have also been slow to progress. And next, we are planning to catch up with these procedures, then to get together with the developer, to map out the development interest and also to come to a decision on them. Either we will move forward with them and agree on how to move forward with them, or if the interest has really waned, to decide to also terminate them," Lippus said.

Tallinn urban planning deputy mayor Madle Lippus. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Developers also share blame for delay in plans

The end result of cleaning up the planning register should be to make the urban planning agency work faster and improve results, Lippus said. Tallinn City Government has faced considerable criticism from developers over delays in detailed planning procedures. However, Lippus said it is not always the city's fault.

"There are plans that have taken ten years to process, but that is not always because the city planning authority does not provide feedback quickly enough. Often, these long planning procedures also happen because the developers themselves take a couple of years to think things through. In some cases, it can be as much as three, four or even five years," Lippus said.

The city's aim is to ensure projects meet the legal deadline of three years for plans to be adopted. "This requires both parties to work really consistently for the three years in order to achieve that goal. These shorter deadlines cannot just be met by speeding up the work of the city's planning authority, but it really needs good cooperation with the developers," Lippus said.

Meanwhile, rising inflation could mean some previously initiated plans stall due to hesitancy from developers. In such cases, the city could potentially help the developer find a temporary solution for the site, Lippus said.

"Then the city can perhaps help to decide what function or use would make most sense (for such sites) during these so-called breaks. And whether we might in some way, either based on our own ideas or by changing regulations of some kind, support the idea that urban space, especially in the city center and the areas around the city center, should not be left empty and unused," Lippus said.

BLRT's plans for Kopli peninsula also among terminated procedures.

So far, 52 inactive detailed plans have been terminated. Most of these were in Lasnamäe (12), the city center (10) and Mustamäe and Nõmme (9).

Among the more noteworthy are the BLRT Group's plans to convert the enclosed harbor area at the tip of the Kopli peninsula into an open area, creating a "high quality urban environment" and  converting the plot at 103 Kopli tänav into a harbor. This detailed plan was initiated in March 2004. The BLRT Group did not oppose the plan's termination.

The planning application by the then Merimetsa Sports Club for a modern equestrian sports base in the vicinity of Kolde puiestee 75, or Hipodroom, has also been ended. According to the plan, which was initiated in 2011, 164 apartments were to be built on the site.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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