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Deconstructing Construction Permits in Poland

Isfandyar Zaman Khan's picture


Building something requires not just an ordinary will, but a will of steel. There is cement, there is digging, there is dirt, there is plumbing - and then there are permits and inspections and more permits and thus the will of steel is needed again. The Poles build a lot. At close to a million employees, the construction sector accounts for around 10 percent of the total number of the country’s employed workers and is 7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

To build we need a regulatory framework which, for the construction sector, was embodied in the construction law enacted in 1994. Just as our family grows and our housing needs change, it appears that the same holds true for some laws. This particular law has been amended 19 times in the last 19 years, resulting in a very fragmented and inconsistent legislation - think your mother in law living with her boyfriend in your spare bedroom.

Sadly, preconstruction clearances are unnecessarily complex and burdensome. The World Bank Subnational Doing Business Report for Poland (2015) points to the strong variations experienced across different cities of Poland. Most preconstruction clearance agencies and utility providers do not publish or make their technical requirements and guidelines available online. This makes it difficult for building applicants to find information, identify their obligations, or comply with technical requirements. Inadequate or outdated building regulations generate multiple requests for exemptions. About 30 ordinances deal with technical standards. While these standards have changed numerous times over the past two decades, several provisions have not yet been updated or reorganized for consistency.

These days we do everything on our smart phone - from paying bills to finding a date. Yet when it comes to things that really need digitization in the construction sector we are still in the middle ages.
The lack of adequate ICT infrastructure negatively affects workflows and communication across building inspectorates and other public agencies. The lack of computerized workflows within local inspectorates and the absence of computerized links across building control agencies, such as the Fire Department and other regulatory agencies, undermine efficient communications.

Before applying for an occupancy permit, for example, any investor is required to notify the State Fire Protection Body and State Sanitary Body on completion of construction and the building’s planned opening. Those authorities have 14 days to express their opinions and submit possible objections. The investor is primarily responsible for collecting multiple responses and for providing each department with the appropriate documentation demonstrating compliance with potential objections. This is a complex coordination task that should fall directly under the responsibility of the County Administrator.

However, in the past few years the Polish Government has undertaken a sustained effort to improve the design and implementation of its regulatory framework for construction. Under the latest amendment, which came into force in June 2015, things have finally been streamlined.

For single family homes we now have a notification system instead of permits. The number of authorities required to provide approvals has been reduced to just two (sanitary and fire) and countless other streamlining has occurred. Additionally an Urban and Construction code is being created which aims to improve the efficiency of building code administrations and inspections, introduce a notification method for low-risk building applications, and shift additional responsibility from over-worked (and at times, slow) public authorities to the design sector (architects and engineers).
 
Drafting an Urban and Construction code is not a simple task. It is a lengthy process that requires numerous consultations with private and public stakeholders at the national and subnational levels. International good practices and lessons learnt from other jurisdictions should be taken into consideration to help navigate through this process.

In this context, at the request of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Development (MID), The World Bank prepared a report comparing selected practices from other European jurisdictions to assist MID in conducting further discussions with stakeholders.

The report presented good practices from Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom on the process of developing and updating the technical requirements of building codes, considerations regarding the role of efficient building permit procedures and measures in keeping compliance costs low, and efficient and effective building inspection procedures. MID plans to have the Urban and Construction code ready by December, 2016.

It is expected that this new legislation will incorporate many regulatory innovations to align Poland’s construction guidelines with other EU jurisdictions. If this important effort can be completed by the end of the year, the construction process could change - significantly reducing burdensome and complex procedures like the high number of preapprovals currently needed to start construction works.

This could be a nice Christmas present for building practitioners, authorities, investors and your mother in law, in case she wants to move in.

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