Tuesday, Dec. 13 was a difficult day for Ukrainian citizens and their Parliament. They were at odds with one another over the newly-adopted law №5655 on urban planning reform. Its authors say they are launching important reform that will help to control construction in cities. However, critics argue that the law will, on the contrary, have the opposite effect, as it gives developers the opportunity to do whatever they want without control. It’s not easy to figure out just who is right.

What the authorities say

Ukraine has been struggling with problems in the urban planning field for many years. Large cities often suffer from chaotic, uncontrolled urban development, which is partly a consequence of corruption: the illegal sale of land, decisions adopted illegally to demolish cultural monuments and build shopping centers or residential buildings in their place, etc. Some developers have had their people in place among representatives of local authorities who assist them through corrupt methods to get the necessary permits for illegal construction. This problem was most acute in the capital.

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Back in 2020, President Volodymyr Zelensky's inner circle promised to reform the urban planning field. First, the State Architectural and Construction Inspectorate, which was accused of having corrupt ties with developers, was liquidated.

Then, work on developing the draft bill that was supposed to regulate urban planning began. In the summer of 2021, the corresponding draft law №5655 was adopted in its first reading. Further amendments were written throughout 2021. And a decision was taken during Russia's war against Ukraine to put the bill to the vote. As it’s already necessary to prepare the ground for future reconstruction of the country after Ukraine’s victory.

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The draft bill was developed by lawmaker Olena Shuliak, deputy leader of the ruling Servant of the People party, and Oleksandr Kubrakov, Deputy Prime Minister for Reconstruction and Minister of Communities, Territories, and Infrastructure Development.

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"This is a comprehensive document, on which a large team has been working for several years: representatives of ministries, the Inspectorate for Architecture and Urban Planning, and representatives of the market, expert and professional environment," Shuliak said.

She says local authorities will now have all the necessary tools to counteract chaotic development and illegal construction - up to dismantling illegal objects without a court decision. "And this will put an end to many typical problems of Ukrainian cities."

Kubrakov adds that the digitalization and automation of processes introduced by the draft bill will radically change the business environment in the construction industry, which has previously been steadily associated with corruption, abuse and numerous stories of duped investors.

The law’s adoption was supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Ukraine. They believe that "most important are innovations in the field of urban planning like: total digitalization of procedures, increasing the transparency of all processes in the field of urban planning, the division of functions of urban planning control and urban planning monitoring, raising the level of responsibility for violations of urban planning conditions. This should, as a result, significantly reduce corruption risks in the field of urban development and increase the level of confidence of international investors in the construction industry."

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The document was supported by 228 lawmakers, with at least 226 necessary. Members of the pro-Russian Opposition Platform - For Life faction also helped with voting,  which caused outrage among many Ukrainians.

"Unfortunately, these lawmakers are now voting in favor of many decisions. But not all of them voted for this particular law," Vitaliy Bezgin, MP from the Servant of the People party, told Kyiv Post. Bezgin also heads the Subcommittee of the Parliamentary Subcommittee on State Building, Local Governance, Regional and Urban Development.

What the critics say

The NGO Chesno, the Nashi Hroshi ("Our Money") organization, the Association of Ukrainian Cities, architects and other activists who found many inaccuracies in the document opposed it. Military staff involved in the urban planning field, who are now serving on the front, also recorded a video expressing their indignation about the law’s adoption.

The greatest indignation among activists was due to the lack of any communication with the public during the bill’s development. This raised concerns about possible risks. Furthermore, the authors of the draft for a long time did not provide the document for review before the final vote.

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Iryna Fedoriv, editor-in-chief at Chesno, has argued that one of the key problems is that Ukrainians will not be able to effectively influence the rebuilding of their country, and developers will be in charge of the situation. It means that developers will be able to create their own company, which will «control» its own activities. Meanwhile, prosecutors and local authorities will not be able to participate in this.

The investigation team of the Nashi Hroshi TV program noted that the new law gives a lot of powers to the Ministry of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development, which can "create significant corruption risks".

Nashi Hroshi analysts also warn of the «The possibility of turning down citizens in their request for inspection of a construction site and the absence of such a basis for supervision as an appeal by citizens or public organizations. »

According to Oleksandr Slobozhan, Executive Director of the Association of Ukrainian Cities, the absence of clearly and precisely defined provisions in the draft bill increases the risks of corruption, there by negating the idea of digitalization the permit system in urban planning.

The National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) also had issues. Even before the second reading stage, it prepared recommendations that should help eliminate corruption schemes in the procedure for issuing urban planning conditions and restrictions on developing land and made several more remarks. According to Kyiv Post sources in the NACP, 90 percent of the recommendations were taken into account by the authors.

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What’s next

Right after voting on the bill on Dec. 13, a petition demanding the president veto the law was created on the website of the President's Office. It gained the necessary 25,000 signatures. It is now up to Zelensky.

But high-ranking members of the ruling parliamentary faction told Kyiv Post that he supports reform of urban planning, so he will sign the law despite the criticism.

Nevertheless, they talk about the possible risks of the adopted law, albeit cautiously. 

"They exist, as in any law," one Servant of the People lawmaker, who wished to remain anonymous, told Kyiv Post.

They can be prevented only through communication, which both sides need. "Both sides are guilty in such conflict situations. The draft law is not only a legislative process, it is also a political one which, as in any country, suffers from a lack of trust in society. It seems to me that both sides failed to work in the context of mutual understanding and did not try to build dialogue. I am a supporter of the notion that in such situations we should first sit down and talk without the presence of cameras. Then, if that does not work, to hold public consultations, and only use media confrontation as a last resort. In this case, everything was done the other way around," lawmaker Vitaliy Bezgin of the ruling Servant of the People faction told Kyiv Post.

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He is now calling on both sides to hold additional consultations with those who hold different positions. He is not ruling out the possibility that the problem is not in the text of the law, but in the lack of understanding of exactly what is being proposed by the reform.

Bezgin also said that Ukraine’s international partners were interested in the law. "The day before I had a meeting at the German Embassy with our German colleagues. The issue of reform was raised in the course of an hour-long conversation. I voiced my position that the key problem of the law is in communication. I did not hear any tough warnings from Western partners."

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