Since the end of 2023, the Ministry of Local Administration and Services under the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) has been adopting new zoning plans for cities and towns within its areas of influence in northwest Syria. The ministry also sent notification memos to residents in some towns specifying the areas of their property cut by the new plans while allowing those affected to object to other plans not yet approved.
Mohammad Said Al-Ashqar, an advisor to the Minister of Local Administration, told a correspondent for The Syria Report that the final versions of the zoning plans adopted by the ministry update some old plans, some of which were issued in the 1980s. Engineering committees affiliated with the Directorate of Urban Planning in the Ministry of Local Administration and Services worked on updating those plans. The directorate, reactivated in November 2023, includes urban planning, plans and documents, and topography departments. Its tasks involve preparing planning studies, general and detailed zoning plans for cities and urban settlements, developing a land classification guide, determining expropriation areas for public benefit, and more.
There is no general plan that outlines the future vision for population centres in Idlib, as it remains unstable due to war and repeated displacement. However, the Ministry of Local Administration and Services is attempting to establish a planning program as a basis for the general and detailed zoning plans adopted by the central municipalities, according to Al-Ashqar.
The Ministry of Local Administration and Services recently formed Regional Technical Committees affiliated with the Directorate of Urban Planning. These committees are authorised to review amendments to building code regulations, consider objections to announced zoning plans, and amend or approve them. The committees are led by the Minister of Local Administration and Services and include the director of the Directorate of Urban Planning, the mayor of the concerned municipality, and three consulting architectural engineers. They may also consult experts to decide on objections to the zoning plans. These Regional Technical Committees have addressed objections previously submitted (between 2021 and 2022) to some of the announced zoning plans at that stage.
In an unexpectedly swift decision, the Ministry of Local Administration adopted the final versions of some of these zoning plans after the committees had finished considering the objections. The ministry sequentially announced through its official channels the adoption of new zoning plans for the cities of Harem and Sarmada and the towns of Kafr Takharim and Al-Hamama at the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024.
At the same time, the SSG Ministry of Local Administration announced through its official channels the opportunity to object to the zoning plans for the city of Salqin, the city of Dana, the towns of Maland and Janoudia, and the city of Atarib in the western part of the Aleppo governorate. Copies of the new zoning plans open for objection were displayed on the notice boards of the concerned municipalities. In all these announcements, the ministry gave those wishing to object a one-month deadline to register their objections. After the final decision on these objections, it is assumed that the plan will be referred for final approval at the ministry.
It is essential to note the similarities between Idlib’s directorates, institutions, and committees and those in regime-controlled areas. For example, the Directorate of Urban Planning in Idlib performs similar tasks to the directorates of planning and urban development of some governorate councils in regime-controlled areas. Meanwhile, the regional technical committees perform tasks similar to those of the Regional Planning Authority and the Supreme Council for Regional Planning in regime-controlled areas. Moreover, the SSG’s procedures for approving zoning plans do not differ from those stipulated in the Urban Planning Law No. 5 of 1982, which is still followed in regime-controlled areas regarding methods for developing general and detailed zoning plans, deadlines for objections, and their approval.
Mr Al-Ashqar clarified that the newly announced zoning plans did not include new expropriations. Instead, they aimed to establish urban foundations to determine the locations of central streets and their expansions, parks, and service and administrative centres that serve the population clusters. However, The Syria Report’s correspondent pointed out some confusion and chaos in implementing the new zoning plans in Idlib. For example, the new zoning plan for the town of Kafr Takharim, part of the Sarmada municipality, was issued on December 30, 2023. At the beginning of 2024, the municipality warned owners of commercial shops and homes on Bazaar Street and the second-hand market to evacuate because their properties were included in the public road expansion under the new zoning plan.
The notification method was relatively unusual, as phrases like “Demolish distance of X metres in length” were written on the walls of these properties. The affected parties consulted the Sarmada municipality, which sent a new technical committee that issued written warnings to the property owners, requiring them to evacuate. On January 10, the municipality sent a new committee that informed some of the affected individuals about the reduction in the demolition area of their properties to minimise damages. This committee also confirmed the demolition area for the rest of the properties and cancelled the demolition for some others.