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Prof. Dr Ratko Mitrović: Together we can revive the idea of ecological state

14/04/2021

Soon we will consider the alternative modalities for continuation of the "1000+" project, which would assume the widest level of cooperation between the Ministry, local self-governments, construction companies and future users. The idea is to jointly try to design and build the entire new neighbourhoods, with all the necessary facilities and improved conditions of spatial and energy comfort, says the Minister Mitrović for Glasnik.

The crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic confirmed the necessity of improving the national economy while achieving its sustainable growth, says Prof. Dr. Ratko Mitrović, the Minister of Ecology, Spatial Planning and Urbanism in the interview for Glasnik, the magazine of the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro.
- The focus should be on the activities aimed at restoring a sound environment, protecting biodiversity, reducing harmful gas emissions, strengthening the efficient use of resources by ensuring transfer to a circular economy, cleaner production and consumption, creating new economic opportunities and improving the citizens’ quality of life - explained the Minister.
Glasnik: The Prime Minister Prof. dr. Zdravko Krivokapić, pointed out that the basic commitment of this Government is an ecological state. Which activities do you plan to conduct in order to contribute to that goal in the upcoming period? What are the priorities and how can the economic sector help?
R. Mitrović: When it comes to the ecology sector, the Ministry of Ecology, Spatial Planning and Urbanism will focus its activities on the urgent rehabilitation of all ecological black spots in Montenegro, such as tailings ponds Gradac and Maljevac in Pljevlja, shipyards in Bijela, red mud basin in KAP. Some of the future activities of the Ministry will also be focused on resolving the issue of waste management, which is a long-standing challenge Montenegro is facing, including solving the problem of illegal landfills, air and water pollution. We need to define the best models of protected area management, in accordance with global trends and current national positioning and the present systemic and conservation needs. We will strive to increase the percentage of the protected territory, bearing in mind that our country is characterized by the diversity of flora and fauna, including numerous endemic species.
If you gather National Parks, regional parks and future potential Natura sites, Montenegro will have around 22-25% of its territory under some degree of protection.
The proclamation of the first protected marine area in our territory is currently under the procedure, and the plan is to declare two more such areas in our waters, which partly cover the coastal land. On September 20th this year, it will be 30 years from the adoption of the Declaration on the Ecological State of Montenegro.
After 30 years, the question arises whether and to what extent we have been committed to this idea in the past and whether we have directed the development of Montenegro towards its realization.
Aware of the fact that the transformation towards sustainable development takes precedence on the global path of development along with strengthening of environmental protection and the fight against climate change, in the light of global events and initiatives (the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development, Paris Agreement on Climate Change, European Green Deal, Green Agenda for the Western Balkans and others) this year it is necessary to review past and future decisions related to the development plan of Montenegro.
It should be noted that the current crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has confirmed the huge impact of human factors on the environment and climate, and therefore it is necessary to improve the national economy while achieving its sustainable growth, along with the focus on the activities aimed at restoring a sound environment, protecting biodiversity, reducing harmful gas emissions, strengthening the efficient use of resources by ensuring transfer to a circular economy, cleaner production and consumption, creating new economic opportunities and improving the citizens’ quality of life.
Furthermore, a sound environment is the right of every individual, and in that sense its preservation and protection are not only the responsibility of the line ministry, but also of all other departments and institutions, including the business sector, because only through joint efforts and commitment we can adequately revive and start again the realization of the idea of an ecological state.
Glasnik: How does the Ministry plan to contribute to solving the problem of hazardous waste and ecological black spots in Montenegro, but also to meeting the criteria in the area of ecology for the EU accession?
R. Mitrović: We are witnesses that one of the key and basic problems in Montenegro is the problem of waste management and it must be solved urgently, so we plan to develop a new National Solid Waste Management Plan, because the previous one has expired. We have to observe waste in two ways, as something we do not want to see in nature, but also as a secondary raw material. We are about to systematically deal with this issue and find a solution, which should be based on both primary waste selection and modern waste processing technologies.
From the sphere of communal activities which are under the jurisdiction of our ministry, there are also waste waters and we are facing either the non-existence of plants for their processing or the existing plants do not function at the satisfactory level. We have already talked about this problem with the representatives of the international community, in order to review the situation and try to find an adequate solution for this problem, in cooperation with the recognized international experts,
The Action Plan for Chapter 27 - Environment and Climate Change defines 251 obligations, which are arising from the Negotiating Position adopted by the Government of Montenegro in February 2018, many of which are related to solving the issues of waste management and industrial pollution. Therefore, we believe that addressing these issues will result in internal readiness to accelerate the process of closing the negotiations in this chapter.
Currently, three environmental issues are in the process of remediation - Pljevlja Thermal Power Plant, Gradac tailings pond and Bijela shipyard, and all three projects are in advanced stages of implementation. Rehabilitation of these environmental spots is realized through projects and the support of the World Bank loans. As for the red mud basins, our activities are limited by private property right, because they are owned by a private company. Of course, that ownership entails obligations, because it is a landfill for hazardous industrial waste, so we intend to consider how and in what way the owner of this waste treats the legal obligations related to such landfills.
There are some indications that certain foreign companies have expressed interest in processing this material, but all this is still semi-information and some background echo, which accompanies this whole problem. Until we see concrete data, as well as letters of interest, we still choose to keep considering this waste as potentially very hazardous, and so we will treat it until we get some more reliable information.
Glasnik: You have announced the reproduction of salt in the Ulcinj based Solana. What exactly needs to be done for its realization and what are the obstacles standing in the way?
R. Mitrović: The unresolved property-legal relations are the biggest stepping stone when making decisions regarding Solana. First we need to know and determine who the owner is. The decision on how to resolve the property and legal relations must be made at the level of the Government. It has been announced that the Privatization Council will make a decision on the ownership in the coming period and it is expected that Solana will be the state-owned. In that way, conditions would be met for the establishing of a municipal company which would manage the production processes in the area of Solana.
The Solana ecosystem cannot function without human action, that is, without pumping seawater into the Solana’s basins. Being aware of this fact, then it is the most logical to start the production of salt, because when it comes to money and energy, water pumping is the most expensive and the most demanding part of the process in terms of energy, everything else is done by the sun, and it is up to us to pick the yield i.e. salt. We believe that it is the best to have an active Solana as a company, which not only that it provides shelter to numerous animal species, but also employs people in salt production. So, it is about the economy and ecology, but also the provision of tourist services related to natural rarities in the Solana itself. There are also announcements about an agreement to purchase the necessary equipment with the world-famous manufacturers, in order to relaunch the work of Solana.
Taking into account, of course, that the Solana is completely ecologically preserved and improved, launching the production of salt would be of exceptional importance for the citizens of Ulcinj, but also for the whole of Montenegro. The main reason is restoring in this way a positive international image, given that Solana is regionally and internationally recognized as a very important area for biodiversity. Having in mind the above said, at the same time, this would improve the tourist offer of Ulcinj and increase opportunities for tourist marketing. Third, it would create opportunities for new jobs.
Glasnik: A new approach to the development of planning documents, the Spatial Plan of Montenegro and the General Regulation Plan has been announced. What is the plan of activities on this issue and do you share the opinion that the participation of the business community is necessary in the preparation of these development or regulatory documents, given that they will be adopted by the Parliament of Montenegro?
R. Mitrović: The development of the Spatial Plan of Montenegro will continue soon after the evaluation of the analysis of the current situation and the concept of the plan, with the necessary changes in the working team, which will assume the engagement of renowned foreign experts. Since in most developed European countries, the representatives of the business community are provided with some kind of participation in the development of strategic planning documents, we will try to establish this practice during the development of the Spatial Plan of Montenegro, especially through the process of public debate. It is important to keep in mind the fact that this plan is a key strategic document of spatial development of Montenegro until 2040, and in this context we cannot expect that the subject of dialogue will be ownership plots and initiatives belonging to the micro level of economic activities.
The development of the General Regulation Plan will not be continued, primarily because we believe that such a plan could potentially turn the entire area of Montenegro into a superficial and insufficiently regulated construction area, which is not the vision we are striving for. The idea of general regulation is contradictory itself, but in the essence it means that at the general level it seeks to regulate, i.e. plan which by its nature requires a more detailed level of consideration and reflection. Instead of the General Regulation Plan, we will try to return the spatial plans of municipalities and general urban plans, as well as the necessary categories of regulatory i.e. detailed plans in the amended Law on Spatial Planning and Construction of Facilities, in order for the local self-governments to be able to exercise their rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Montenegro, the Law and the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It is understandable that during the development of this level of planning documents, we expect more intensive participation of the business representatives.
Glasnik: Housing development and the right to housing, as one of the postulates of modern communities, presupposes housing for the market, but also for categories of the population which are not able to solve the housing issue in this way - young married couples, retired persons, social welfare beneficiaries, etc. As a Ministry in charge of the housing development, are you preparing novelties which would be interesting, above all economically acceptable, both to the citizens and to the construction industry, which is one of the bearers of this business?
R. Mitrović: Residential buildings are estimated to make up about 80% of the total construction fund in Montenegro. Therefore, we must be aware of the huge impact that housing has on space. The past 30 years have been characterized by the absence of a clear vision, both in terms of housing policies and in terms of design and construction of housing. The fact that in 2021 Montenegro still does not have a Rulebook on minimum conditions for the design of residential buildings, speaks volumes about the degree of regulation of this area. Therefore, one should not be surprised at a paradox that today flats of about 40 square meters are offered on the market as two-bedroom and that, due to poor planning solutions, buying a flat no longer means that a buyer will have a decent view, enough sun, minimum distance from neighbours or parking lot. On the other hand, multiannual manic insisting on the quantity of housing construction for the market and treating housing predominantly as a commodity rather than a right has brought almost all Montenegrin cities to a state similar to that of many European cities between the two world wars, against which the members of CIAM reacted with the famous Athens Charter.
This means that our cities are overbuilt, and that life in them is not healthy. Therefore, we finally have to face the fact that some municipalities today have almost the same number of apartments and inhabitants, and despite that, the quality of housing is extremely low. Therefore, it is quite coherent to ask the question - how many apartments we need in the upcoming period and how these apartments should look like, especially in light of the growing differences in regional development and not at all well demographic trends. In order to improve the situation in this area, an urgent drafting of the Rulebook on minimum conditions for designing residential buildings is ahead, in which, in addition to employees of the Ministry of Ecology, Spatial Planning and Urbanism, recognized experts from Montenegro and the region will participate. Its adoption is planned for the end of the second quarter of this year.
In addition, in the current year the development of the Social Housing Program for the period 2021-2024 is planned, in order to increase the availability of housing for priority groups of users and to determine the indicative scope of funds and the criteria under which these funds can be used.
Soon we will consider the alternative modalities for continuation of the "1000+" project, which would assume the widest level of cooperation between the Ministry, local self-governments, construction companies and future users. The idea is to jointly try to design and build the entire new neighbourhoods, with all the necessary facilities and improved conditions of spatial and energy comfort. Our intention is to reach new and better housing typologies through urban-architectural competitions and to show that their affirmation will at the same time contribute to the affirmation of the architectural profession as well.
Finally, in order to create preconditions for more rational planning of housing needs, it is necessary to urgently establish the Register of Spatial Units and the Address Register. To this end, we will strive to establish intensive cooperation with the Ministry of Finance and the Real Estate Administration, in order to complete these registers as soon as possible and make them available to planners.
Glasnik: A significant part of the economic activities is performed in facilities which are subject to legalization. It seems that, despite the efficiency of the legalization process, there is room to amend the law. As the drafting of the General Regulation Plan of Montenegro was approached, the question arises whether the legalization should be simplified now so that it is only cadastral in this phase, and the next phases of legalization (review and acceptance in space) should be left for urban projects, which are a legally prescribed instrument for the implementation of the General Regulation Plan for the areas where these facilities were built.
R. Mitrović: Pursuant to the provisions of the Law on Spatial Planning and Construction of Facilities, along with the request for legalization of an illegal building, a proof of recording or registration of the building in the real estate cadastre must be submitted. This means that a necessary precondition for initiating the legalization procedure is the registration of a building in the real estate cadastre, with the annotation that it was built without a building permit or construction registration, which is registered in accordance with the Law on State Survey and Cadastre.
Along with this proof, the body responsible for conducting the legalization procedure is also provided with a study of the survey of the constructed condition of the illegal facility, on the basis of which the facility is registered in the cadastre. Also, one should submit photographs of the illegal building and the company's report on its existence on the orthophoto image and the compliance with the basic urban parameters and/or guidelines of the valid planning document, as well as the auditor's statement that the illegal building was built in accordance with these parameters and/or guidelines, which proves that the building was in space at the time of making an orthophoto image of the territory of Montenegro (2017-2018) and that it was built in accordance with the planning document. This means that illegal buildings, for which the legalization procedure has been initiated, are registered in the cadastre with an annotation that they were built without a building permit, i.e. without a construction report, and that they can be in legal circulation.
However, other laws regulating the performance of certain activities, prescribe restrictions for the performance of activities if the facility was built illegally, which is justified from the point of view of respect for the principle of legality; specifically, it is not justified to allow business under equal conditions for two economic entities, one of which built a facility in accordance with regulations (project, project audit, execution of works in accordance with regulations, paid fees for utilities, registration in the cadastre, etc.), while the other built a facility contrary to the regulations, i.e. informally, and often on someone else's land.
The planned amendments to the Law will certainly include the provisions defining the legalization procedure, especially in terms of their harmonization with the amendments, which will refer to the spatial planning system, i.e. to the types of planning documents, with the aim of improving the efficiency of the procedure itself and removing doubts in the implementation.
Glasnik: In the field of removing business barriers, e-business in the field of spatial planning, urbanism and construction is imposed as one of the priorities of both the Government of Montenegro and the business community. The Chamber will support all activities regarding the electronic drafting and obtaining and issuing acts in the above areas as soon as possible. What is the Ministry’s plan for this important activity?
R. Mitrović: One of the preconditions for meeting the obligations from the INSPIRE Directive is the establishing of a geoportal with spatial and planning documentation. Our goal is to present valid planning documents on the web and link them with the services of other institutions, first of all with the services of the State Property and Cadastre Administration, services related to digital cadastral data, etc. In this way, we want to provide all users with transparent access to information in the field of planning, including information on the status of construction on plots.
With the adoption of the Amendments to the Law on Spatial Planning and Construction of Facilities in 2011, the "one-stop shop" system was introduced, according to which the body responsible for issuing building permits obtains all the necessary documents required for both issuing the permit itself and issuing the urban and technical conditions - conditions, opinions, consents and other evidence, prescribed by special regulations. The "one-stop shop" system enables investors to communicate with only one body and obtain a building permit more easily.
We plan to introduce e-business in the field of building construction, so that the "one-stop shop" process can be done electronically. In that way, the analogue form of drafting technical documentation would be completely abolished, which would contribute to the reduction of costs, improvement of work efficiency, simplification of procedures and easier communication of all entities involved in these processes. The realization of the above would make the process of building facilities much more transparent.
The application of electronic communication is especially important in the field of licensing and inspection, and we expect that it will start working in practice soon after the adoption of the Rulebook which should determine the manner and procedure of electronic communication. The information system for the support of the work of the urban-construction inspection (URBIS) is currently in the implementation phase and we hope that it will soon be in use.
Glasnik: The business sector has been very active in the preparation of several regulations in the field of utilities. We would appreciate if you could introduce our readers with the planned legislative activity of the Ministry in relation to the already prepared draft laws on utilities and water services.
R. Mitrović: Within the Government’s Work Program Proposal, the Ministry of Ecology, Spatial Planning and Urbanism suggested the drafting of the Law on Water Services and the Law on Communal Activities, i.e. their adoption in the form of the proposal to the Law by the Government for the IV quarter of this year. I would like to remind that public discussions were held during the preparation of these proposals, but the Ministry always remains open for additional consultations and a dialogue with all stakeholders.

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