1.1 History of the planning system

Spatial and urban planning in Belarus was developed within the planning system of the USSR and existed in its central form until 1991. Integrated budget and centralized system of planning and distribution of financial and human resources were the peculiarities of that period. It had eliminated the independence and autonomy of local authorities and held them subordinated to executive bodies of Belarusian Republic and the Soviet Union. The procedure of public participation in urban planning process was quite formal. Generally, the decisions were made on the national level with priority for sectoral interests without concerns for local specificities.
Often making a decision on a very local issue such as the construction or service development in human settlement and its financial realization was not dependent on local government or local community but on the union or republican ministry. So, in practice national interests always prevailed.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union political and socio-economic conditions changed completely. Since its independence in 1991, Belarus embarked into a transition to a market economy and launched a process of decentralization and liberalization:
  • the new Constitution confirmed the public and private forms of ownership;
  • the development of national legislation was started;
  • new types of land tenure were introduced;
  • the process of capacity building of self and local governments started with the adaptation of the Law "On Local Governance and Self- Governance in the Republic of Belarus" (1991);
  • local initiatives were encouraged and the role of civil society has been enhanced in the process of city planning and management;
  • cross-border cooperation between Belarus and neighboring countries has been strengthened;
  • a new vision on the role of cities in the global economy appeared.
However, since 1997 the role of the central government in planning and governance is being continuously strengthened. There is an ongoing process of centralization and national protectionism.
It should be noted, that in Belarusian spatial planning system the positive experience and traditions gained during the Soviet Union period is saved and at the same time they were enriched by new ideas, approaches and methodologies meeting the requirements of new role of the regions and cities in globalize world.
New approaches towards spatial planning in order to meet requirements of new times were developed in Belarus. They are based on the following principles:
  • efficient use of territorial resources on the basis of their economic estimation;
  • improvement and development of social, industrial, transport and engineering infrastructures;
  • improvement of ecological conditions in cities located on the affected territories after Chernobyl disaster;
  • protection and efficient use of natural resources, historical and cultural heritage.
These priorities were determined by social, economic and ecological trends observed in Belarus.

Social, economic and ecological trends in Belarus during last decade

Transition period is characterized by new dimensions that influence on the formation and balanced development of human settlements and territories. Some of the trends are similarly found in the majority of the countries in transition but some of these trends reflect only national development features.
The main demographic trends found in Belarus are:

  • depopulation: increase of death rate and fall of birth rate;
  • decline of migration;
  • disruption in age distribution in economically active population ( EAP): ratio of non-economically active aged population per EAP is dramatically increasing and reached the level 13:1 (UN prescribes 7:1 as the edge for balanced development).

The main economic trends are:

  • employment redistribution: raise in the number of employed in the service sector;
  • priority development of competitive and import-substituting enterprises. Efficient use of the economic potential of large and big cities;
  • energy saving; natural resources management and encouragement of recycling;
  • restructuring of agricultural sector. Diversification of land property types (private, leased, state and public lands).

The main ecological trends are:

  • increasing air pollution due to growth in car ownership (70% is currently accountable to use of automobile);
  • increase of underground water pollution as a result of poor hydrological protection of the water table in some parts of the country e.g. contaminated territories from Chernobyl disaster;
  • increase of areas of biodiversity and landscape protection. The establishment of national ecological network;
  • persisting effects of Chernobyl disaster on the development of human settlement system. At the same time, positive shifts are noted with the reduction of contaminated areas as a result of natural recovery and destruction of radio-elements.

In general spatial (territorial) planning in Belarus includes scientific, legislative, design, construction and administrative activity for environmental accomplishment and improvement through the development of settlement systems, location of industry, residential buildings, service centres, recreational zones as well as improvement of social, transport infrastructures, public utilities system taking into account requirements for environment optimization, cultural and natural heritage protection. Spatial planning is a form of planning which seeks to influence the future distribution and pattern of activities in terms of their locations. It is concerned with a territory and place. It emphasizes land-use and physical development and the connections between places. Spatial planning addresses conflicts about development and seeks to promote conditions conducive to economic development and cohesion while also conserving the environment. Spatial planning operates on the presumption that the conscious integration of (particularly public) investment in sectors such as transport, housing, water management etc. is likely to be more efficient and effective than uncoordinated programs in the different sectors. Spatial planning can make an important contribution towards sustainable development.

Nowadays the main role of the state in the planning of territorial development involves creation of the terms for competitive social and economic activity, preservation and protection of environment, realization of social justice and support of the local initiatives. As experience shows the borders of the objects of territorial planning are adjusted to administrative and territorial borders. Existing administrative division of the Republic of Belarus was formed during reforms implemented in 50s and 60s which were stipulated by the needs related to centralized economics improvement. Despite the particularity of the reforms in administrative division in Belarus, the results met general trend that had place in postwar Europe - reduction of low-level administrative units and their integration.Administrative and territorial arrangement and spatial borders of territorial planning of Belarus are specified by the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On the Administrative-territorial Division and Procedures for Resolving Issues of the Administrative-territorial Organization of the Republic of Belarus" (1998). Regional councils are in power to determinate and change administrative boundaries for the towns of district (raion) subordination and other urban settlements.

As it was mentioned before, in Belarus administrative and territorial units are defined as territories where the local councils, executive and administrative bodies are established and act according to the legislation. Administrative and territorial units are represented by regions (oblasts), districts (raions), rural councils, as well as cities and townships. Administrative district is a district defined for administrative purposes. City or municipal district is a district of a town or a city, e.g. administrative boundaries structured under the municipal area.
Planning of settlements development is implemented within the administrative and territorial units according to the legislation and considering social, economic, ecological, planning and other conditions.