Recently there have been major changes to planning and land-use rules in Poland, due to an amendment to the Spatial Planning and Development Act of 27 March 2003 (consolidated text, Journal of Laws of 2023, item 977, as amended). The new legal institutions created include general plans or for example integrated development plans, and a new system for obtaining a planning permit. A large portion of these changes took effect on 24 September 2023, and further changes will apply from 1 January 2025 and 1 January 2026.

Clearly, it is in fact the changes concerning planning permits that will have major implications for investors. A planning permit must be obtained for instance when there are plans to build on land not covered by a local zoning plan.

Above all, newly issued planning permits will have to be in line with general plans, which are local acts of zoning law. To date, there was no requirement for planning permits to be aligned with the zoning study applicable to a particular site. On the other hand, zoning studies will expire ex officio as of 31 December 2025, which is the date by which the general plans have to be adopted. At the same time, there is nothing preventing municipal authorities from passing general plans before that time. From that time, an application for a planning permit will have to be reviewed to ensure that it is in compliance with the general plan.

An interesting development is that municipal authorities will be able to demarcate the development zones in general plans. With respect to the development zones, the general plans are intended to be the legal basis for granting a planning permit, and this means that it will only be possible to obtain planning permission for sites within development zones. In fact, the condition that a site be located within a development zone has been written into the legal provision that lays down planning permission requirements. The situation remains unclear when the municipal authority does not specify a development zone in the general plan, as the decision whether to specify this zone is optional. It has been said off the record that when a municipal authority does not specify development zones in the general plan, there is a risk that it will not be possible to grant planning permission at all, except in strictly defined circumstances, including reconstruction, extension, or upward development. Therefore, if property development is envisaged for a site not within a development zone, in general the municipal authority cannot issue a planning permit. Importantly, the municipal authority will not be free to demarcate that zone at its discretion; it will be required to observe the appropriate parameters, while the zone will be determined according to the structures within it, of the relevant type and number. These requirements are specified in a regulation on the procedure for demarcation of a development zone, and this is intended to prevent the expansion of construction.

At the moment it is not clear what this will mean in practice, as no authorities have issued rulings, and there is no academic comment or case-law on this subject. Until this is the case, it will not be possible to determine the views taken by authorities, but at present it can be assumed that municipal authorities will observe the rules strictly in their decisions, and this is because development zones are being introduced to prevent the expansion of construction.