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The law on regional standards of urban planning passed by the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg is a highly desired document, but extremely formal.

In late January the city law “On the regional urban planning standards applicable in the territory of St. Petersburg” was adopted in it’s third reading. It defines the minimum level of providing the city residents with objects of transport and engineering infrastructure, socio-cultural, utilities and recreational purposes in development of urban areas.

How and to what extent these regulations will apply in St. Petersburg and if they are applicable at all, was discussed by market participants at the roundtable organized by the “Expert North-West” journal.

A patch for St. Petersburg

As experts of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly (LA) explain, the bill is a “patch” that needed to be adopted. Otherwise, the prosecutor’s office would have stalled the entire process of approvals for area planning projects. “Somehow we managed to solve this problem. And the document based on which you can identify deficiencies is better than none”, - said Alexander Karpov, the expert of the committee on municipal services, urban planning and land affairs of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg.

However, in his opinion, the version that was received by the LA from the Governor was mainly repeating the Soviet Building Code . “And one of our goals was to throw out all unnecessary. Leave specific numbers that have the compulsory nature. The message from the executive authorities was very clear: on the one hand, quickly, on the other, as little specific as possible because no one figure was sure. As for the developer community, their position was selfish and passive.

They put forward specific proposals a few times: there should be such a figure, and here so. And all that is beyond numbers, in particular the concept of the law, we do not care. As a result, diplomatically speaking, the dialogue did not work”, - he explains.

Already in late February, the Legislative Assembly passed the first reading of a new bill, “On Amendments to the Law on Urban Planning”, which, according to Alexander Karpov, sets a new format for standards.

The time for amendments to the second reading of this bill is until 2nd October. “And it gives the opportunity to establish a working group and work out all the nuances”, - said the expert.

Ex-adviser to the Governor of St. Petersburg, Chairman of the Board of Directors of JSC “Avangard”, Vyacheslav Semenenko, agrees with the absence of the initial figures for the calculation: “We have a total deficit of kindergartens in all districts. And is there a figure? No. Can we solve this problem? No. Because there are no vacant plots of land of appropriate format in the area of St. Petersburg. Hence, it is necessary first of all to change the federal law, in particular, the Sanitary rules and norms, and to prescribe the possibility of the building of different types of kindergartens. They will take the load.

The same situation on schools and health issues. Standards of the Soviet era have to go. Two ambulances to bring down the blood pressure, four beds and an outpatient office – and it would offload some territory”.

Experts are convinced that the problem is that all such proposals are included in the scope of federal lawmakers. “Our proposals are: to highlight the city centre, prescribe a special order that the federal zones do not apply to this area, and create here an own Building Code. Then, perhaps, there will be differentiation”, - says Svetlana Yershova, the head of the scientific and methodical study of the urban development of St. Petersburg SPbGKU “Research and Design Centre of the General Plan of St. Petersburg”.

No loophole

The problem of legislation inflexibility does really exist. “We have no legal basis that would allow designing St. Petersburg with precission. There are a certain set of standards, the Russian average. But St. Petersburg is not Russia. We have a very special city, a unique historical centre, large differentiation of territories, from Kurortny District to Kolpino. A huge coastline of the Gulf of Finland and a huge bank line of the Neva.

We have a large territory compartmentalization that these regulations do not take into account”, - asserts Alexander Karpov. – And the standards were adopted as though we have the whole city like a solid flat board, and you can draw any arbitrary grid on it. Enforcers will face all this when trying to apply a standard to a real project plan. A classic situation, which is called “it was smooth on paper”.

“Now we are committed to analyze spots under construction. We take a spot and see what can be implemented on it. And we understand that what we want or hypothetically can implement, does not fit. Building a house – there is no place to insert a kindergarten because children can not cross the road. We cross out the housing project. As a result, there does not arise any kindergarten, neither school, nor housing”, - says Olga Frolova, a leading analyst of the strategic consulting department of Surveyor International Group. - I faced a similar problem in Leningrad region, when we were preparing the General Plan. We see a depressed area: clubs where nobody goes, half-empty schools and kindergartens. But we have no choice – we have to plan them. Municipalities sign it all, but understand that nothing will be built. If you take the territory in the agglomeration area, there are the same standards and already overcrowded schools and kindergartens. They carry children there from neighboring settlements”.

Difference in needs

In the opinion of the head of sales department of “BFA-Development”, Svetlana Denisova, the presence of at least some of the rules is better than their absence. “But all the same rules create a significant difference in the position of small and large companies. That social burden, which lies on developers, can be coped with only in integrated development projects. And it is completely unwieldy in case of point building”, - she says.

Rules do not generally take into account the difference in needs that buyers of housing of different classes are experiencing, Svetlana Denisova is convinced. “We built up a new quarter, according to all parameters we are aware that the apartments will be in demand by buyers of economy class. But these people do not have sufficient funds, for example, to purchase a place in the parking lot. We want them to buy parking, but it does not mean that they can buy them. We have laid more than 700 parking lots for 2 thousand apartments.

And this is a problem: we will remain with unsold car places. This is a loss, which we know in advance. On the other hand, residents of luxury apartments do not take their children to the nearest kindergarten. These points should be taken into account. It is impossible that one approach fits all situations in terms of class and historically established realities”,- says Svetlana Denisova.

Olga Frolova agrees with her: “It seems to me that we need differentiation – the center and outskirts. And depending on the classes, too, because the material security of housing of economy class and “comfort” and “elite” are different. It’s an important document, we like to use it, but it does have these shortcomings”.

Experts do not argue about one thing: the main task of regional planning standards in principle now is to separate land being built up from land not being built up. “The area to be built-up is to be separated from the road network, from open urban spaces. Separate what belongs to the market from what belongs to the state”, - said Alexander Karpov. “I am a supporter of evolution, I am pleased to work with those materials that develop existing standards and documents. Our standards are working for the general plan, for the future. Kindergartens, schools, polyclinics must be planned, and accommodating them requires creativity. At the same time, standards will inevitably take away chunks of territory from developers”, - according to Svetlana Yershov.

Oksana Kolganova

Regional business journal “Expert North-West”, 17-23 March, 2014, No. 12 (659), pp 30-31