2.1 Legal framework of planning

The Environmental Code and the Planning and Building Act form the legal basis of physical planning in Sweden. The Environmental Code constitutes an 'umbrella' for the Planning and Building Act as well as other special laws that have an impact on the physical environment. The aim of the Environmental Code is to promote sustainable development. It is to be applied so that:
  • human health and the environment are protected,
  • valuable natural and cultural environments are protected and managed,
  • biodiversity is preserved,
  • land, water and the physical environment are used so that a long-term good management is ensured from an ecological, social, cultural and social cost-benefit point-of-view,
  • re-use and recycling are promoted so that a natural cycle is achieved.

The parts that have special importance for land-use planning contain planning guidelines for certain large geographical areas. This includes, among other things, large parts of the Swedish coastline and the mountains. The Environmental Code also includes rules that certain areas, certain built-up areas or buildings, and certain roads and railroads can be given the status of national interest for (e.g.) nature conservation, cultural heritage, outdoor recreation, defence or social/public cost-benefit reasons. The national interest areas or objects are defined following a consultation process between central state authorities, county administrative boards and the municipalities.

According to the Environmental Code, the Government has to examine whether certain large industrial and energy installations can be allowed, before the detailed development plan and before project planning or other planning (to prepare for production) takes place. The Government will then take a stance on the conflicts that exist involving geographical planning guidelines and national interests as described above. The Government also determines whether there may exist conflicts involving other regulations in the Environmental Code. The Government cannot, however, give permission if the municipality concerned is opposed (the municipal veto). There are exceptions from the veto when it comes to certain installations of extremely high importance for the realm, for example installations for the final storage of nuclear waste. This also applies to large infrastructure investments.

The Planning and Building Act regulates the planning process. Measures on the land or to buildings that demand permission have to be tried in accordance with the rules contained in the Planning and Building Act. This applies to all new development, most cases of reconstruction, the change of use of land and buildings, demolition, etc. The municipalities are responsible for examining the case and assessing whether the measures are in accordance with different plans. The municipality mostly uses two instruments for its planning. These are the previously mentioned comprehensive plan and detailed development plan. The comprehensive plan is to present and describe the main features of the intended use of land and water areas in the municipality. It should show the municipality's view of how the built environment should be developed and preserved. It should also indicate how the municipality intends to provide for the national interests located in the municipality and how the municipality intends to observe the environmental quality standards set by the Government.

The municipalities of Sweden are now being preparing the Municipal comprehensive plans of the third generation. Increasingly they are evolving to become municipal development programmes that deal with the housing supply, the development of business and industry, and with environmental considerations. The use of land is also increasingly being assessed in connection with social objectives.

A Detailed development plan is necessary for new buildings that form part of a settlement, or if the building has a significant impact on its surroundings, or if it can be assumed that it is the first building that is in an area under pressure to be developed. A Detailed development plan is also required for reconstruction if the building forms part of an area that needs to be considered coherently. In other cases the municipality can assess the acceptability based on the general regulations of the Planning and Building Act, as well as the intentions that the municipality has described in its comprehensive plan.

The Detailed development plan is the implementation instrument of the municipality. It is legally binding and gives, among other things, the municipality the right to expropriate land for public use. However, most measures are implemented by individuals or organisations rather than the municipality. As previously mentioned, the detailed development plan has to set an implementation period of a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 15 years. During the implementation period, the rights, that the plan accords, are economically protected. After the end of the implementation period the municipality can, without compensation, change the plan so that unused rights expire. Investments that have been made during the implementation period are, however, protected.

The Detailed development plan is to show which areas that are to be used for building and different installations, e.g. for trade, sports, burial sites, traffic, protected areas, etc. For buildings, the permitted use and extent of the use have to be stated. It is common practice that, for example, the permitted building height is stated. The detailed development plan also has to show public places for streets, roads, squares and parks. The municipality can also set requirements for the execution of the buildings. In certain cases matters such as colour and materials are also stated.