The Syrian Prime Ministry issued Notice No. 15/17/B on June 2 to “amend the instructions of the Land Classification Plans Guide and determine its production capabilities in order to obtain the required approval and undertake investments on lands located outside of zoning plans.”
Its unusual name aside, the notice was also replete with technical terms that were often complicated, repetitive, and incomprehensible. From a housing, land and property rights perspective, the most dangerous part of the notice was its stipulation that those who violate its instructions would be punished according to the provisions of Law No. 40 of 2012, which concerns the removal of “building violations.”
The Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform compiled the Land Classification Plans Guide in 2008. The guide was approved on December 3, 2008, via Prime Ministerial Decree No. 10409/1, and was amended once in 2014. The guide is a directory of soil types in different regions of Syria, classified by their fertility and suitedness for agriculture. The guide can be used to determine areas suitable for agricultural investment and urban, industrial, and touristic development.
Under Article 1 of the new notice, the Land Classification Plans Guide serves as the main reference for determining proposed sites for zoning plans, industrial zones, service or touristic facilities, and renewable energy projects. Such sites are referred to as lands located outside of zoning plans; that is, they have yet to be zoned.
The amendment made in Notice No. 15/17/B centres on protecting agricultural land, including preventing erosion and determining the investment sites outside of agricultural zones. The amended instructions are meant to preserve agricultural land and ensure that they are used only for their specified purposes.
Under Article 2 of the notice, proposed project sites may be approved if they achieve the principles of regional planning, namely “leading and managing the spatial organisation in the region in a manner that is integrated and balanced.” Regional planning, according to Regional Planning Law No. 26 of 2010, is integrated planning that regulates and directs residential and environmental policy. Such planning is considered a link between larger national planning for general state policies and urban planning for metropolitan communities. Article 2 of the notice stressed compliance with the results of the regional planning process within areas that have undergone study “in order to ensure a developmental, environmental and comprehensive planning perspective.” However, since regional planning work has so far only been completed in Syria’s coastal region, the application of the new notice is limited to that area until planning studies are completed elsewhere.
Article 3 required the Regional Planning Commission (RPC) to coordinate with the Ministry of Agriculture to identify “areas of restricted development,” which are lands designated solely for agricultural investment and protection of natural resources. Article 3 added a new requirement, “integrated environmental planning for land usage,” which is another uncompleted planning. That is, areas of restricted development are dependent upon two still uncompleted processes: regional planning and integrated environmental planning for land usage.
Article 4 required the Ministry of Agriculture to work towards the completion of digitising the approved land classification plans and coordinating with the General Military Survey Establishment (part of the Ministry of Defence) to match those plans with topographical maps.
Article 5 pressed governors to settle the statuses of industrial or trade facilities located outside cities or industrial zones. According to previous statements by the Minister of Local Administration and Environment, there are a total of 7,519 such facilities located outside of any zoning plans in all governorates. Of those facilities, 5,535 are licensed and 1,984 are not. For every new zoning plan within an administrative unit, the government tends to include a trade or industrial zone to meet that administrative unit’s needs. When there is no such zone, lands, where certain industrial facilities are concentrated outside the zoning plan, are considered to serve that purpose and will receive both a general and detailed zoning plan, as well as construction codes.
Articles 6, 7 and 8 contained a set of conditions for obtaining approval for building projects and facilities outside of zoning plans – that is, the rules that are meant to regulate the licensing of agricultural facilities, industrial facilities that depend on agricultural goods, and facilities for services and tourism. These conditions also include settling the status of any unlicenced facilities, as well as construction codes and building guidelines for tourism projects. Article 7 prohibited the construction of these facilities on some types of arable land, except for lands that are rocky or cannot be reclaimed for agricultural purposes.
Article 9 included some general provisions and stressed that the instructions within the notice apply to all lands outside of zoning plans: state-owned land, privately owned land, land belonging to the public sector and joint sector, i.e. land owned jointly by the private and public sectors, etc. In addition, any old investment licences that have not yet been implemented must be cancelled, alongside any approvals previously granted to investment projects that were proven to have been used for purposes other than those stated in their licences.
Finally, Article 9 stipulated that local administrative units must coordinate with the agricultural departments in their respective governorates to follow up on licences granted to projects and compile quarterly reports. These reports must be submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture so that it can take the appropriate legal measures against any rule breakers. Article 9 especially emphasised adherence to the provisions of the removal of “unlicenced structures” which were issued in Legislative Decree No. 40 of 2012, as well as its amendments. In essence, Article 9 stipulated that buildings or facilities that were constructed in violation of the 2022 notice, and following the date of its issuance, would be demolished. The provisions of Decree No. 40 would be applied to any detractors.