We, the NGOs, are responding to the changes in the Spatial Planning, Architectural and Construction Code of Georgia, initiated in the parliament by the Batumi Municipality We believe that the package of legislative changes contains the danger of further aggravating the problem of chaotic development of the city of Batumi, creates risks of unjustified, potentially corrupt decisions by the Batumi City Hall, and avoidance of construction regulations by construction companies as a result of special privileges granted to them.
The package of amendments to the construction legislation, produced by the Batumi City Hall and initiated by the Government of Georgia, was registered in the Parliament of Georgia on June 15, 2022. On June 20, the Parliamentary Bureau made a decision to expedite the review of the package, and on June 22, a draft law was discussed by a leading committee. The adoption of the draft law is scheduled for June 24.
Such acceleration of the process precluded in-depth consideration of the issue and proper prevention of the risks arising from the draft law, and protection of the interests of various public groups from the potential negative impact of the draft law. The unreasonably short deadlines set in the planned review process deprive civil society of the opportunity to make critical remarks before Parliament and to participate in the discussion of this important change.
The package of legislative changes includes changes in two laws. In particular, the proposed project removes the limitations on exceeding the maximum coefficient of development intensity within the administrative boundaries of the city of Batumi, giving the Mayor of Batumi an exclusive right to exceed the allowed thresholds of the development intensity coefficients of the land plots and to approve or change the urban planning documents with conditions different from the requirements established by the legislation, including without a detailed urban development plan.
This decision allows the mayor to regulate issues related to the maximum height of the building, functional zoning and its regulations, requirements set by the approved in the planning assignment/ construction regulation plan of the urban development plan, preconditions for using the land plots for building construction, requirements of the architectural-construction design, traffic and green space regulations, boundary zones and rules of building placement, number of parking lots and other components of urban planning.
According to the explanatory note to the draft law, these changes are being implemented in order to address the most pressing problem in Batumi – the replacement of houses in an emergency state, in order to better implement the program “Batumi without Emergency Homes”. The explanatory note also claims that “construction and development companies could be interested in replacing such buildings only if they satisfy the population needs, as well as carry out construction in a manner (high-rise, larger buildings, etc.) that will satisfy their financial interests.”
The package of legislative changes is not limited to the above-mentioned changes and also includes amendments to the Law of Georgia on the Rule of Expropriation of Property for Essential Public Needs. The authors of the draft law point out that in the process of replacing damaged houses if the owner(s) of the house in the emergency state do not agree with the terms offered by the municipality, the dismantling of their houses could become at least one of the grounds for expropriation for essential public needs.
It is obvious, that the fears of the authors of the draft law stem from the fact that the authors of the draft law neither agree with the terms of the resettlement with the declared beneficiaries of the change nor base the terms of the implementation of the program on the research into their real needs. Instead, in order to insure themselves against the expected resistance, in case of refusal of resettlement, they are ready to properly seize the property.
The draft of extremely problematic regulations seems even more controversial given the lack of information about the exact number of houses in an emergency state on the territory of Batumi. To date, 118 damaged buildings have been identified in the city, the number of which is likely to increase significantly and will directly lead to an unprecedented scale of violations/disregard of construction legislation on one hand, and will create direct risks of abuse of power, corruption, and misappropriation of funds on the other. At the same time, in the light of these regulations, giving the government the authority over forced expropriation during the implementation of targeted programs might give it dangerous leverage and create risks for a blanket housing deprivation of people, while the fate of evicted residents until the construction of the new housing remains completely unclear.
Uncontrolled increases and changes in construction coefficients over the years are the main reason for the chaotic development of many cities in Georgia. It was the uncontrollable possibilities of exceeding the coefficients that became the subject of protest by many experts, and civic groups. As a result of the changes in the coefficients, both Tbilisi and Batumi lost many important recreational and public spaces, an important part of the cultural heritage. The ecological situation in the cities has deteriorated. That is why, in 2019, the Tbilisi City Hall in a solemn situation informed the population about the restriction of the rule of exceeding the coefficients as a result of the amendments to the Spatial Code. This change, as an important environmental reform, is systematically highlighted by both Tbilisi City Hall and the Government of Georgia.
The proposed draft law completely contradicts the idea, and the spirit of the mentioned reform, and allows for the further aggravation in Batumi of the negative tendencies that were the very reason for introducing restrictions on exceeding the coefficients in Tbilisi. The purpose of the building regulations is to prevent chaotic construction so that they do not become a source of destruction of public spaces, and recreational areas, the reason for occupying construction sites, and do not have a serious impact on the right to live in a healthy environment.
The proposed draft law, without any justification, gives the mayor of Batumi an unlimited opportunity, at his own discretion, to make decisions on the regulations, which are already defined by law in the case of other cities. The explanatory note does not shy away from acknowledging that this change is proposed to directly support the business interests, while its expedited review indicates the pre-agreed activities of state and local agencies to pursue this interest.
It should also be noted that due to the interest of business, legislative changes are made against the public interest. Such an extension of the mayor’s discretion, by narrowing the standards of transparency and public engagement, creates risks and possibilities that the decisions made by the Batumi mayor may be the result of negotiations with business circles behind closed doors.
We would like to remind the public that NGOs have been systematically raising the issue for years that the Georgian government, in coordination with the municipalities, should develop a national housing strategy and action plan in Georgia, which will be a multidisciplinary document to address the problem of homelessness and inadequate housing. The Government of Georgia has also made this commitment under the Open Government Partnership Action Plan (2018-2020). The obligation has been left unfulfilled from year to year. Instead, sporadically, under the pretext of solving the problem of homelessness and adequate housing, legislative changes are introduced that pose risks of serious harm to public health, ecology, environment and people.
Based on the above, we call on the Parliament of Georgia:
- to suspend the expedited discussion of the draft law;
- to create a space for a critical discussion of proposed changes;
- to involve the beneficiaries of the Emergency Home Replacement Program, as well as expert groups, non-governmental organizations, and civil society in the process.
- Social Justice Center
- Society Batomi
- Green Alternative
- Open Society Georgia Foundation
- Batumi Center for Civic Engagement ;
- Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association;