1.1 History of the planning system

The evolution of the Norwegian planning system can be divided in three different stages:

(1) Except for state infrastructure, public planning after the independence in 1814 consisted in general of detailed land use planning based on regulatory schemes confined to urban agglomerations. Just a smaller proportion of the population lived at that time in urban areas. Planning was therefore limited to the tiny urban settlements of the country. Supposedly, this planning was of lesser material relevance for most of the country's population.

This does not mean that European urban architecture and planning were unknown to the authorities, not even to the people living in the small and scattered urbanities. Buildings exhibiting Romanesque, Renaissance or more commonly Baroque architectural elements are still witnessing of influences from earlier periods. And the Renaissance street grid was introduced in the Mid-1600 planning of fortified towns as well as in planning for the regeneration of towns after devastating fires. These new ideas of urban architecture and planning came relatively late to Norway. Nevertheless, the regulatory character of urban plans had seemingly an earlier origin. As early as in Late-1200 Norwegian urban regulations underlined the need for separating polluting activities from areas where people were living or gathering. This early stage of what more disputable could be labeled as a planning system exhibits characteristics that somehow reveal a rather long tradition. According to needs planning laws and regulations were adopted for prioritized areas.

During the 1840s a state planning law came into being for the biggest towns requiring town plans for these urbanized areas as urban municipalities. Outside these municipal areas, there was no fixed jurisdiction for public planning. The urban planning document was a kind of land use regulation scheme for the physical structures and for the implementation of constructions of certain magnitude, including urban infrastructure. Finally, officials, usually the managers of planning and infrastructure sectors, constituted the majority of planning committees for the execution of planning, including development control.

(2) 1924 marks a decisive move towards an extended unitary planning system when a new building act was adopted for all urban municipalities, and even rural municipalities who wanted to validate this law for their planning. The obligatory jurisdiction area for planning according to this law was still limited to the border of these municipalities. Since any rural municipality had the mandate to validate this law, it came successively into power in most of the municipalities. Still, planning was understood as a public device for the creation of orderly land use and infrastructure service provision based on one category of plans, the zoning plan, which could be regarded as a detailed development plan. In the local planning and building committees officials, in main directors of the different municipal sectors, were in majority.

The rather constrained territorial and functional scope of this law was quite soon challenged from two different positions. Firstly, urbanization and expansion of urban settlements came gradually to weaken the relevance of urban settlement delineations and municipality borders as demarcations for land use planning. Population growth and the evolution of transportation technologies extended gradually urban structures across municipal borders and engendered needs for overall land use planning covering urban settlements in continuity. The first (voluntary) attempts to plan regionally across municipal borders occurred around 1930. Initiated by state planning authorities, these attempts continued from the late 1940s, however without any unitary legal frame for this kind of planning. Secondly, WWII and the subsequent needs for urban regeneration together with political visions for a coherently planned welfare state gave new arguments for the widening of planning tasks, and the establishing of a new institutional order for urban and regional planning. In the beginning, these new tendencies concentrated on planning for regional economic development as a decentralized realization of state policies. Later on attempts to expand the content of planning branched into other tracks.

(3) In 1965 a new building act was adopted. For the first time planning was introduced to the whole main land of the national territory and divided into three distinct planning levels: the central state, regions consisting of two or more municipalities with separate regional planning bodies and the local municipalities representing the local tier. This law introduced elected political rule in planning matters as the planning- and building committees should reflect the political majority in power. Some of the ambitions behind this new system were to extend the mandate of planning in general and on both municipal levels in particular. In county as in municipal planning the intent was to integrate activity planning within different public sectors with land use planning.  In the beginning, infrastructure planning played a prominent role in these attempts to co-ordinate budget planning within public sectors with public land use planning. Particularly in local planning housing was included in this co-ordination.

The State's involvement in housing was directed towards housing finance through the State Housing Bank and regulation of supply and demand as well. But as the public responsibilities relating to education, health, social security and culture expanded during the 1960s and 1970s, the overall plans for these levels as co-coordinated documents should cover all municipal activities for both levels including the overall land use or structure plans. In consequence, the regional level mandated for land use planning had to be connected to the main entity in charge of public regional services, i.e. the County Municipality. In 1973 the county municipal master plan replaced the former regional plan.

Later on these formal principles are partly maintained, partly consolidated through the existing Planning and Building Act adopted in 1985 and its later revisions. Throughout these reforming activities the principal formal instruments in urban detailed planning and development control are almost kept untouched since 1924, except for some noticeable changes. Regarding planning requirement for EIA was adopted in 1987 and in 2006 land development agreements was legalized as instruments for the exaction of developers' contributions to infrastructure and community services. The intents to strengthen the democracy in planning are followed up through rules emphasizing public access to information and the rights to participate in planning and building matters. During the latest years certain principles of permitting have been changed giving extended responsibilities of the building control operations to the developer.