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Slovakia: The Problem with Building Permits

Slovakia: The Problem with Building Permits

Issue 11.2
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Permitting of any projects is a long-standing problem in the Slovak Republic. In international surveys, Slovakia ranks at the bottom, as it takes an average of 300 days to permit a simple building such as a family house. This problem becomes much more acute in the case of constructions that are more complicated and require the assessment of several administrative bodies or may have a significant impact on the environment.

It seemed that this problem would largely be solved by the new construction legislation that was approved in 2022. As the 1976 Construction Act was to be replaced, hopes were high. From April 1, 2024, this new legislation was to come into force, splitting the old Construction Act into Act No. 200/2022 Coll. on Spatial Planning and Act No. 201/2022 Coll. on Construction.

The main objectives of the new legislation were the professionalization of the state administration in construction and spatial planning, reduction of the administrative burden, simplification and merging of building permits, and digitization of data used as inputs related to spatial planning and construction. All these partial changes were intended to lead to a shortening of permitting procedures. The new construction regulations had to go hand in hand with changes to many other legal provisions. The biggest changes were to be made in the case of the permitting related to environmental impact assessment, either as a screening procedure or as a mandatory assessment.

These changes, for which the state apparatus did not prepare sufficiently, as well as the change of government, have led to the amendment of some parts of the old 1976 Construction Act. At the same time, the new Act on Spatial Planning is coming into force, more or less in its original wording, as proposed, from April 1, 2024, but the new Act on Construction, which was supposed to speed up many processes, is to be postponed by a year. In practice, this means that from April 2024, municipalities, self-governing regions, and the Slovak Republic will prepare and amend spatial plans in accordance with the new legislation, but building permits will continue to be issued under the old regime.

A recurring problem in securing building permits is the multiple, interconnected proceedings, which are separate administrative proceedings involving many administrative authorities, participants (such as neighbors), and also, very often, the public. They have the possibility to challenge the decision at each stage (it can always be even for the same reason) and thus prolong the proceedings.

The concept of the “public concerned” as defined in the EU Directive on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, whose aim is (supposedly) to protect the environment, has taken on an unprecedented dimension in the Slovak Republic and the setting of the permitting processes is in favor of its plans. The “public concerned” is often represented by several NGOs, known to the authorities and investors, which submit objections on all published projects, regardless of whether they are related to the planned construction or not. The reason is that the procedure for determining whether or not a project should be subject to an environmental impact assessment – a so-called “screening procedure” – is a separate administrative procedure, it allows for public participation, and the public also gets the status of a participant in all subsequent procedures related to the construction in question. At the same time, it appears that many projects in Slovakia are subject to at least a screening procedure, which is not the case in other countries.

In view of the postponement of the entry into force of the new Construction Act, the Ministry of the Environment of the Slovak Republic has responded to the issue by drafting an amendment to the Environmental Impact Assessment Act which was presented at the beginning of February 2024. The amendment should enter into force on May 1, 2024. The purpose of the proposed amendment is to remove gold-plating and accelerate impact assessment processes. Specifically, the proposed legislative update exempts the screening procedure from the Administrative Procedure Code, which can significantly speed up the assessment. It also eliminates the possibility for the public to challenge the outcome. Proposed changes to the thresholds for activities can also speed up the processes, as fewer projects will be subject to a screening procedure or an environmental impact assessment.

In conclusion, building permit procedures remain a sticking point, but there are efforts to improve the situation. Hopefully, the main obstacles leading to the currently lengthy procedures have been correctly identified and, if not already addressed by the new acts, the legislator will be quick to introduce additional updates.

By Annamaria Tothova, Partner, Eversheds Sutherland

This article was originally published in Issue 11.2 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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