Last December the Serbian Parliament adopted significant changes to the Planning and Construction Act (the “PCA”), aimed at streamlining the procedure for obtaining construction and usage permits. The amendments introduced a consolidated permit procedure, whereby the applicant is supposed to communicate with a single competent authority in the permit process.
This is a welcome change from the earlier procedure, which was extended and complicated due to a number of competent authorities involved in the permit process. Now, the applicant submits the required documents to only one competent authority and from that moment the authorities involved are supposed to mutually exchange information and documents related to the application. This means that, once the permit procedure has been initiated, additional involvement of the investor is required only exceptionally.
Each authority involved in the permit process must have a unit dedicated to the implementation of the consolidated permit procedure. Such unit is in charge of collecting the necessary documents and issuing the relevant acts, including location conditions and construction and operational permits. In addition, the unit maintains the consolidated procedure register, a publicly available electronic database containing information on all registered permit procedures.
Based on the text of the law, the consolidated permit procedure was supposed to commence on 1 March 2015. Since the changes in the permit procedure brought about by the amendments to the PCA are far-reaching, we wanted to check whether they are actually being implemented in practice or are only a dead letter of the law.
According to the information we obtained from the municipal authorities of several cities across Serbia (Smederevo, Pancevo, Kraljevo, Vranje and Subotica), the respective authorities have all started to implement the consolidated permit procedure from March 1. What is more, some of the authorities we contacted (Subotica municipality) have already issued their first construction permits in accordance with the consolidated procedure.
Despite a generally successful start of the implementation of the new procedure, the authorities we contacted also cited certain difficulties related to it. What is proving to be the main issue are technical difficulties concerning electronic communication between the involved authorities, due to the limitations in their technical capabilities.
Additionally, some authorities have expressed their doubt that the time limit for the issuance of a permit (less than one month) will be observed in practice. This time limit can be observed only if the applicant submits all relevant information and documents in the initial submission and no subsequent supplements are required, which is an exception rather than the rule.
The implementation of the consolidated procedure appears to be on the good track. However, it still remains to be seen how the authorities will resolve the observed difficulties related to mutual communication and whether the new procedure will actually have the effect the legislator intended – shorter duration of the application procedure and the course of the procedure with the applicant’s active involvement only at the phase of submission.