National Audit Office: Public interests must not be ignored when building in coastal and shoreline areas

Toomas Mattson | 11/29/2007 | 12:00 AM

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TALLINN, 29 November 2007 - In the assessment of the National Audit Office, public interests are often pushed into the background in the planning of construction work on coasts and shorelines, and the actual effects of the building are not evaluated. Poor supervision, ineffective penalties and the ease with which unauthorised buildings can be granted legal status are allowing unlawful structures to be erected in coastal and shoreline areas.

These problems present the danger of natural coastal and shoreline environments being steadily replaced by those that are man-made, with ecologically sensitive areas unable to bear the burden.

The audit carried out by the National Audit office revealed that as of 1 October 2007 only 127 local governments had a valid comprehensive plan, of which almost half were prepared prior to 2000, with 98 local governments only now drawing up their plan.

The lack of comprehensive plans, or their invalidity, has meant that development in many municipalities has taken place on the basis of detailed plans serving private interests. As people do not appreciate the importance of detailed plans, public interest in them is low and discussion does not take place. Moreover, it is not possible to identify the environmental impact on coastal and shoreline areas from individual detailed plans if more and more new structures and buildings are added.

Building on the coast and on shorelines may only take place as exceptions to the rule which must be justified by local governments. Between 2004 and 2006 coastal and shoreline building exclusion zones were reduced 150 times. Local governments often leave decisions up to the Ministry of the Environment, and the ministry’s consent does not always include justifications.

A number of coastal and shoreline building restrictions are unclear, as a result of which they are applied in different ways (or selectively) in different parts of Estonia. For example, in the municipalities it audited the National Audit Office uncovered cases where densely populated zones were planned for coastal or shorelines areas with the consent of the government being sought.

County government supervision of plans does not ensure that errors made in planning by local governments will be discovered, such as permitting the construction of densely populated zones in shoreline areas and limited publication of plans.

A significant threat is posed not only to coastal areas and shorelines but also to adherence to the law more generally by problems in construction supervision. As checks are not carried out in the majority of municipalities systematically as to whether building work is being performed on the basis and within the limits of a permit, breaches are not being detected at an early stage – in which case it would still be possible to restore the situation.

Generally, unlawful structures are granted legal status without any justifications being taken into consideration. Offenders are only threatened with a fine whose amount, compared to construction prices, is small. In many cases no penalties are imposed on individuals at all.

The ministers for Regional Affairs, the Environment and Economic Affairs and Communications have read the report issued by the National Audit Office and are largely in agreement with the conclusions and recommendations it presents.

The National Audit Office organised the Construction Activities in Coastal and Shoreline Areas audit to investigate whether the state and local governments were defending public interests in the planning of structures for coastal and shoreline areas.

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of National Audit Office
Telephone: 6400 777
Mob: 51 34900

  • Posted: 11/29/2007 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/15/2015 11:19 AM
  • Last Review: 9/15/2015 11:19 AM

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