The Higher Regional Planning Council (HRPC) is set to approve and implement the regional plan for the Syrian coastal region this summer, making it the first such completed plan, according to official government statements. The information raises questions as to why the coastal area was prioritised over other parts of Syria that witnessed higher rates of destruction during the war, causing the displacement of residents and depriving them of their rights to housing and property.
The Director of Regional Planning and Decision Support in Lattakia’s governorate council said that the plan will highlight natural resources and the potential future use of lands for economic or residential purposes, as part of strategy to ensure sustainable development. He added that the coastal region is a priority for such development because of its strategic location and natural resources.
Coastal Syria is where most members of the Alawite community are based, with Sunni and Christian minorities and as such it is an area of staunch support for the regime. At the same time it has been relatively spared by the conflict, although clashes in the northern part of Lattakia governorate in 2013 led to the forcible displacement of some Turkmen and Sunni residents.
According to official statements, the recently announced regional plan covers 4,367 square kilometres of land in the Lattakia and Tartous governorates. The plan highlights the government’s vision for the coast for the coming 20 years, allocating land for different usages, including residential areas, urban expansion zones, agriculture, nature reserves, economic activity, tourism and health facilities, energy transmission networks, water sources and dams.
In 2018, as part of the regional planning process, the HRPC divided Syria into seven regions, each of which having distinct geographic, demographic, economic or administrative characteristics, facilitating the drawing of regional and zoning plans. Those regions are Greater Damascus, the south, the Badia, the east, the north, the central region, and the coast.
Regional Planning Law No. 26 of 2010 did not explicitly stipulate that priority would be given to certain regions over the others, rather stating the importance of achieving balanced national and regional development. The coastal region faced few of the sort of wartime damages that would justify choosing it as a priority for regional planning. The other regions that are currently under government control are under similar, if not worse, economic, and urban conditions. Thus, contrary to what was stipulated in Law No. 26 of 2010, choosing the coast as the first regional planning project will only exacerbate pre-existing imbalances in development. The goal behind this choice appears to be political–the coastal region is the most important centre of support for the regime, which may be trying to alleviate poor local living conditions by allocating more funds for investment and public services.
Regional planning presents myriad repercussions on the living conditions of ordinary people, as it serves as a middle link between national planning for the state’s general policy and urban planning for local communities. Regional planning directives are a mandatory part of urban planning and are meant to provide optimal spatial and social conditions for economic and development projects.