Explained: The Directorate of Planning and Urbanisation in Damascus Governorate
The Directorate of Planning and Urbanisation is part of the municipal services at the Damasus governorate. It is tasked mainly with preparing and following up on the city’s general zoning draft plan. The directorate also puts in place the city’s planning and expropriation draft plans and follows up on procedures for approval.
The directorate is in charge of planning, implementation and supervision, tasks that give it wide-reaching powers that often affect housing, land and property rights. For example, 40 years ago the directorate made an expropriation plan for properties in the RuknEddin informal settlement, located at the foot of Mount Qasioun, in order to widen certain streets and build a school. Though the area underwent expropriation, this project has not yet been implemented. Instead, these properties have fallen into disrepair and heirs have been barred from restoring them. A similar problem happened in the Midan neighbourhood of Damascus, when some properties were expropriated in order to widen local streets.
The directorate is also responsible for classifying districts within the capital as residential, commercial or agricultural. This task includes keeping some areas, such as Basateen Al-Razi and Basateen Kiwan in the Mazzeh area classified as agricultural land despite being located in the heart of Damascus, under the pretext of maintaining green spaces in the capital. Property owners in these areas have therefore been unable to obtain construction permits. As a result, informal settlements were established in these formerly green areas that grew without regulation. In the early 2000s, however, the directorate reneged and decided to change the classification of Basateen Kiwan from an agricultural area into a real estate investment area, and offered real estate there for investment without any justification. Later, Legislative Decree No. 66 of 2012, which created two zoned real estate areas within the general zoning plan for Damascus, allowed for the governorate to transform Basateen Al-Razi and its surroundings into Marota City.
In addition, the directorate is responsible for securing alternative housing (which is not provided for free) to eligible residents, as well as following up on the procedures for distributing the homes. That said, the handover of alternative housing units usually faces years-long delays and in many cases the homes are located outside the administrative boundaries of Damascus. The 1990s saw the Four Seasons Hotel built on land expropriated by the Damascus governorate in the downtown Zuqaq Al-Sakhr neighbourhood — but owners of those expropriated properties were given alternative housing in the Qudsaya suburb. And residents entitled to alternative housing in the Marota and Basilia City projects are still waiting, seven years after eviction, for homes that will be constructed at their own expense.
The Directorate of Planning and Urbanisation also prepares and follows up on studies related to health and the environment, though it does not appear to be fulfilling this duty to the greatest extent possible. For example, construction on the Yazid River water treatment plant in Damascus’ RuknEddin neighbourhood, as well as the sewage treatment plant in Dummar, located west of Damascus, was completed in the early 2000s. However, they remain out of service to this day, allowing untreated sewage water to be pumped directly into the Barada River.
The Licensing and Construction Department affiliated with the Directorate of Planning and Urbanisation, is in charge of issuing permits for a multitude of construction and demolition projects. This department receives and records applications for construction permits and follows up on issuing them. It also issues orders to start construction. As well as permits for demolition, constructing fortifications (such as walls around or above a building), modifying stairwells, constructing sheds on existing buildings and installing fuel tanks.
The directorate also works to set construction permit fees and improvement fees, and has the authority to halt construction projects due to failure to complete the permit process or pay the necessary fees.
Finally, the directorate is responsible for setting and implementing the system of building codes for Damascus city, which was issued in 1997. This system is a set of administrative decisions issued by local administrative units and approved by the governorates and the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. It determines the conditions that must be met for construction, repair and demolition of buildings and other facilities within those administrative units.