On Thursday, at a government meeting on Green Policy, it was agreed that urban sprawl should be addressed in the future years and that local governments should be encouraged and supported more in the building of communal space. The digitization of the construction industry and the modernization of existing housing stock are both top concerns as well.
The discussion focused on the recommendations made in the Government Office’s spring report on sustainable urban development and planning policy.
Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman (Isamaa) said that the trend of “urban sprawl” continues to be a challenge.
“Our urban centers are spreading out, which does not mean a strengthening of the countryside; on the contrary, settlements on the outskirts of Tallinn grow at the expense of the development of other areas,” she said.
“In terms of spatial planning the emphasis should be on strengthening existing communities, e.g. by reducing the spreading of building sites and densifying centers.”
For spatial planning to progress in a sustainable manner, the study recommended that national and local governments be routinely kept up-to-date and informed, and that local municipalities collaborate more on spatial planning issues.
Minister Solman disagreed with the suggestion that municipalities have little or no authority over spatial development.
“In fact, they have a great deal of planning autonomy, they can direct development through a general plan, a specialized plan or a detailed plan, and they also have a say in national planning,” she said.
“Municipalities would have to be supported in other ways, however, such as through spatial data decisions and the channeling of investment and subsidies. To that end, we support the proposal to establish a Spatial Planning Board (in Estonian: Ruumiamet) using our existing state resources,” she added.
The study further suggested that private and public housing stock renovations are too slow.
“The development of apartment building renovation in Estonia is a success story at the EU level, but in our reality, living space modernization must be further supported and accelerated. The way forward entails improved financing, awareness and technology, and we are making significant progress in all these areas, both through the €330 million grant and the long-term research and development program LIFE IP BuildEST,” Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut (SDE) said.
The study also emphasized the necessity to begin measuring the life-cycle CO2 footprint of buildings, and to digitize the construction industry.
“Digitization is critical for ensuring a healthy living environment and the viability of the construction industry. It will enable us to promptly assess and reduce the climate impact of buildings, as well as increase the competitiveness of our construction sector,” Sikkut explained.
The government has launched a number of initiatives in the construction industry, such as e-learning support, an e-construction platform that consolidates digital services, a procedural environment for the building register, and the establishment of an information system for planning purposes.
The Green Policy report (Rohepööre, link in Estonian), published last spring, emphasizes the necessity for a green turn and describes what activities Estonia has already taken and what needs to be done in the near future.
The next step is for the Government Office, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economic Affairs to develop an action plan based on the report’s recommendations, which will then be submitted for approval by the Government.