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How to cite:
Neugebauer, W., Stroissnig, U. (2021): Austria. (date of access).


The Republic of Austria is located in central Europe bordering Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Over the centuries, Austria has played a strategically important role due to its central location. Austria’s topography includes parts of the Alps, the Pannonian Plain to the east, and the Danube region. After Austria joined the EU in 1995, it became embedded in the common market of Europe, with the free movement of people, capital and goods. It is the tenth largest economy in the EU and with 8.9 million inhabitants, it is the 14th most populous country in the EU. However, due to its location in central Europe, it plays a key role with respect to the free movement of people and goods. For example, Austria has major transport routes across the Alps (e.g. Brenner, Tauern, Pyhrn, Karawanks). With 153 million overnight stays (in 2019), Austria is also an important destination for culture, sports and recreational tourism thanks to the diversity of its landscape and of its natural resources due to its topography (ÖROK, Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning, 2018).

The rise in population is concentrated mainly in urban agglomerations and in the surrounding areas within reasonable commuting distance. These growth regions mainly include the Vienna core area with the western axis via St. Pölten, Linz, Wels to Salzburg as well as the Graz region, the Inntal in Tyrol and the Rhine Valley in Vorarlberg. Areas within the inner Alpine regions tend to have a declining population, which leads to structural economic and social challenges. According to the population forecast up to 2030, the urban agglomeration areas are expected to see growth rates of more than 10% between 2014 and 2030, while the inner Alpine valleys are in some cases projected to see population declines of more than 10%.
Austria’s Alpine topography results in a strong axial development along the valleys and a clear limitation of usable space. Well over 50% of the eastern federal states of Burgenland, Lower Austria, Upper Austria is usable land. In contrast, as an Alpine state, only 12.4% of Tyrol is usable land. The western and southwestern federal states (Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Tyrol and Vorarlberg) have a low share of potential settlement areas. The settlement pressure is therefore concentrated in a small area with usable land which has a high degree of sealed surfaces (ÖROK 2018).

Austria ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2001 for the following languages: Croatian in Burgenland, Slovene (in Carinthia and Styria), Hungarian (in Burgenland and Vienna), Czech (in Vienna), Slovak (in Vienna), Romani (in Burgenland).
The majority of the Austrian population speaks German, which is the country’s official language. It is the language used in the media, in schools, and in formal announcements. The main native language of Austria – outside Vorarlberg, where Alemannic is spoken – is Austro-Bavarian, which is spoken in many different dialects. Some minority languages that are spoken in Austria have an official status:

  • Serbian is spoken by 2.4% of all Austrians.
  • Turkish is spoken by 2.3% of the population.
  • Burgenland Croatian, an official language in Burgenland, is spoken by 2.5% of all Austrians
  • Slovene – an official language in Carinthia – is spoken by 0.3% of all Austrians.
  • Hungarian is spoken by around 20,000 people (0.05% of the Austrian population).

(Austrian Press & Information Service in the United States, Embassy of Austria, 2020a)

Austria is a federal, representative democratic republic through the Federal Constitution of 1920. The political system with its nine federal states is based on this constitution, which was amended in 1929 and re-enacted in 1945. The head of state is the Federal President (Bundespräsident), who is directly elected by popular majority vote. The head of the Federal Government is the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) (Federal Ministry of the Interior 2020).

Despite the tight spatial and functional relationships among EU member states within the common economic area, the European Union does not have any formal spatial planning competence, but influences the Austrian planning system through a number of spatially relevant regulations and especially through directives. Above all, regulations on aspects of procedural law, thresholds (e.g. noise emissions) and environmental protection and nature conservation (e.g. Birds Directive, EU Water Framework Directive) are important. In accordance with its contractual obligations as a member state of the EU, Austria has enacted these directives in national law and is under obligation to apply the law. Along with being embedded in the European legal system and EU cohesion and regional policy programmes, European (development) strategies are also of significance for Austria (ÖROK 2018).

General information

Name of country Austria
Capital, population of the capital (2020) Vienna, 1,911,191 (Eurostat)
Surface area 83,879 km² (World Bank)
Total population (2020) 8,916,864 (World Bank)
Population growth rate (2010-2020) 6.62% (World Bank)
Population density (2020) 108.1 inhabitants/km² (World Bank)
Degree of urbanisation (2015) 30.90% densely populated areas (European Commission)
Human development index (2021) 0.916 (Human Development Reports)
GDP (2019) EUR 341,176 million (World Bank)
GDP per capita (2019) EUR 38,421 (World Bank)
GDP growth (2014-2019) 9.54% (World Bank)
Unemployment rate (2019) 4.56% (World Bank)
Land use (2018) 5.94% built-up land
31.88% agricultural land
44.5% forests and shrubland
16.73% nature
1.11% inland waters
(European Environment Agency)
Sectoral structure (2017) 70.3% services and administration
28.4% industry and construction
1.3% agriculture and forestry
(Central Intelligence Agency)

To ensure comparability between all Country Profiles, the tables were prepared by the ARL.

Administrative structure and system of governance

The administrative organisation of Austria is defined by the federal constitution, which is made up of the Constitutional Act and all federal laws and provisions with constitutional status. The Republic of Austria is composed of nine federal states (Bundesländer), one of which is Vienna, Austria’s capital and its largest city. The states are divided into districts for the execution of administrative tasks. On this level, there are 15 statutory cities (Statutarstädte) and 79 districts (Bezirke). The districts are subdivided into the smallest administrative and political units in the country – the 2,095 municipalities. In the last few years, the number of municipalities has been reduced for administrative reasons. Statutory towns are districts and municipalities at the same time (ÖROK 2018).

Due to the federal principle that is enshrined in the Federal Constitution, legislative, executive and financial tasks are shared between the nine Austrian states and the federal government, resulting in a federal and decentralised administration. This constitutional laws and provisions grant the federal states a degree of autonomy. The federal states have their own legislative bodies (state parliaments), executive organs (state governments and state governor) and participate indirectly in the administrative activities of the federal government (administrative authorities administrate federal law). Also, the federal government and the states have different systems of financial management, meaning each have their own budgets and the right to levy taxes and rates, although the main taxes such as income tax, value-added tax etc. are managed by the federal government. In a system called revenue sharing, the federal states receive funds from the federal government’s tax revenues. The plan which regulates revenue sharing is renegotiated at regular intervals and covers only a few years at a time. The following legislation is currently managed by the federal states: matters concerning the state constitutions, building regulations, stimulating housebuilding, regional planning and development, nature conservation and landscape protection, tourism and public events, waste management, kindergartens and day-care centres and community law. Additionally, some federal laws are to be implemented by the states: maternity and infant care, youth welfare, hospitals and electric utilities (Republic of Austria – Parliamentary Administration 2019).

On the local level of administration, municipalities are local authorities and self-governing institutions and have their own competences, which are guaranteed by the federal constitution. Neither the population nor the size of a municipality has an impact on the scope or the number of tasks it must assume. Even though overriding law must be observed, municipalities are not bound by any directions from the federal government. However, their work is supervised by institutions on higher levels of administration. By federal or state laws, specific tasks can be delegated to the municipalities and in managing these tasks, they are bound by the directions they receive from the federal government or federal state. Additionally, municipalities are not only in charge of public administration – they are independent economic entities and are allowed to contribute to the general economy by running their own industrial and commercial enterprises (City of Vienna 2020).

The legislative and executive branches have three levels in Austria:

  • Federal level
  • Regional/state level: nine federal states
  • Local/sub-state level: districts and municipalities
Figure 1: Administrative structure of Austria

Figure 1: Administrative structure of Austria (Statistik Austria, 2020)

Legislature at the federal level

Legislative functions in Austria are carried out both by the National Council and by the Federal Council. The National Council is elected directly by the people, while the representatives of the Federal Council are delegated by the diets of the federal states in relation to the number of seats held by the parties. Together, the National Council and the Federal Council form the Federal Assembly. In physical terms, both are located in the Austrian Parliament. The National Council plays a much greater role than the Federal Council in Austrian politics – it is directly legitimised by free elections, and the federal government is answerable only to the National Council.

National Council (Nationalrat)
The National Council consists of 183 representatives. These are elected by the Austrian people in an equal, direct, personal, free and secret election process. The representatives belong to a political party, list or electoral alliance for which they stand as candidates. The elections for the National Council are held every five years. 
Austrian federal laws are decided in the National Council. Bills can be submitted by the federal government, by representatives, by the Federal Council or by citizens via petitions. Most bills come from the federal government.
Once a proposal for a law has been submitted, there are three ‘readings’ (assessment and debate sessions) in the National Council, after which the representatives vote on the law. If it is accepted, it is passed on to the Federal Council for review. If the Federal Council also gives its consent – rejection of a law only postpones it – the law is authenticated by the Federal President and countersigned by the Federal Chancellor.

Federal Council (Bundesrat)
The Federal Council is the representation of the federal states at federal level. The representatives are delegated by the diets of the federal states, but are not answerable to them. The President of the Federal Council presides.
The Federal Council has little influence on Austrian politics. Its most important responsibility is to discuss laws decided by the National Council and to express opinions on these. In the event of a rejection, it may only postpone a law – it cannot de facto annul it entirely (European Commission, Eurydice Network, 2020).

Executive at the federal level

Federal President (Bundespräsident)
The Austrian Federal President is directly elected by the people for a term of six years in a universal, equal, direct, secret and personal election process. The Federal President has several powers, e.g.:

  • Representing the Republic internationally
  • Commissioning a party to form a government
  • Appointing the Federal Chancellor and the federal ministers and secretaries of state
  • Swearing-in the state governors
  • Appointing judges
  • Supreme command of the armed forces

As far as domestic policy is concerned, the Federal President has the de facto role of a mediator between the state authorities and is, in terms of foreign policy, the highest diplomatic representative abroad.

Federal Government (Bundesregierung)
Alongside the Federal President, the Federal Government is the most important supreme body of the federal administration. It is responsible for the political activities and agreements of the Republic. One of its most important tasks is the preparation of bills.
The Federal Government consists of the Federal Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor, the federal ministers and secretaries of state. The Federal Chancellor is the head of the Federal Government. This, however, is a collegial body, i.e. the Chancellor does not have any direct authority to issue directives to the federal ministers. The members of the government form the Council of Ministers which meets regularly and makes decisions.
Other executive authorities at the federal level are the police and the armed forces (European Commission, Eurydice Network, 2020).

Judiciary at the federal level

Constitutional Court (Verfassungsgerichtshof)
The Constitutional Court is responsible for verifying compliance with the provisions of the constitution. In its capacity as a ‘court of fundamental rights’ and based on its powers to review laws and regulations for their constitutionality, it is called upon to enforce and secure the democratic order of the state under the rule of law.
All government bodies and other institutions fulfilling government functions are obliged to comply with the constitution. In the event of an (alleged) infringement of the constitution by any such body or institution, the Constitutional Court, established on the basis of the Austrian constitution, renders a final decision on the matter and, if necessary, provides for an appropriate remedy. Therefore, it is often referred to as the ‘guardian of the constitution’. As a matter of principle, the Constitutional Court only acts upon submission of an application (The Constitutional Court 2020).

The Supreme Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgerichtshof)
As one of Austria’s three supreme courts of law, the Supreme Administrative Court (VwGH) has final jurisdiction in matters of administrative law. It is the court of last resort in cases involving applications for planning permits or industrial operating licences, as well as fiscal and asylum matters, to name just a few. As such it is placed above the lower administrative courts, which, in turn, ensure that administrative authorities such as tax offices, district authorities and the Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum act in conformity with the law. As a rule, the Supreme Administrative Court only acts upon request (Supreme Administrative Court 2020).

Supreme Court (Oberster Gerichtshof, fourth organisational level)
The Supreme Court in Vienna is the court of final appeal in civil and criminal cases. Alongside the Constitutional Court (Verfassungsgericht) and the Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgericht), it is one of the highest courts in the country (Höchstgerichte). This means that no further domestic remedy is possible against its decisions. Although the lower courts are not legally bound to follow precedent, as a rule they will be guided by the judgments of the highest courts (European Commission, e-Justice Portal, 2020).

Federal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht)
The Federal Administrative Court is one of the two federal administrative courts that hears complaints against 

  • matters executed by the federal government, which are handled directly by the federal authorities, 
  • matters of public procurement executed at the federal level, where the administrative courts have jurisdiction,
  • disputes in employment law relating to public employees of the federal government, if the administrative courts have jurisdiction,
  • other specific matters as provided for by federal law (e.g. environmental impact assessment for projects which are likely to have a significant impact on the environment).

(Federal Ministry for Digitization and Economic Affairs 2020)

Federal Finance Court (Bundesfinanzgericht)
The Federal Finance Court is the second federal administrative court and is responsible for

  • matters that are directly dealt with by the tax or financial criminal authorities of the federal government,
  • tax matters (the administrative taxes of the federal government, the federal states and municipalities),
  • matters of financial criminal law and other legally stipulated matters, insofar as they directly involve the federal tax or financial criminal authorities.

(Federal Ministry for Digitization and Economic Affairs 2020)

4 Higher Regional Courts (Oberlandesgerichte, third organisational level)
The higher regional courts are also known as ‘courts of justice of second instance’. They sit in Vienna (covering Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland), Graz (covering Styria and Carinthia), Linz (covering Upper Austria and Salzburg) and Innsbruck (covering Tyrol and Vorarlberg). These courts deal only with appeals (i.e. at second instance) in civil and criminal cases. The president of a higher regional court is the head of the administration of all courts in the area within the court’s jurisdiction. In this function, the president of a higher regional court is responsible only to the Federal Minister for Justice (European Commission, e-Justice Portal, 2020).

20 Regional Courts (Landesgerichte, second organisational level)
Regional courts, also known in civil cases as ‘courts of justice of first instance’, have jurisdiction:

  • to adjudicate at first instance on all legal matters which are not reserved for the district courts; depending on the nature of the case, to try disputes involving nuclear liability law, administrative liability law and data protection law, and competition and intellectual property cases;
  • to rule on appeals against the decisions of the district courts.

(European Commission, e-Justice Portal, 2020)

115 District Courts (Bezirksgerichte, first organisational level)
District courts are courts of first instance which are responsible for

  • adjudicating civil law disputes involving claims of up to EUR 15,000,
  • ruling on certain types of case irrespective of the amount of the claim, especially family, tenancy and enforcement cases,
  • ruling on some criminal cases where the offence carries merely a fine, a fine plus a prison sentence of not more than one year, or a prison sentence of not more than one year (e.g. negligent physical injury, theft).

(European Commission, The European e-Justice Portal, 2020)

Legislature at the federal state level

Federal state parliament (Landtag)
The parliament of a federal state is called the state diet. Its representatives are elected by the inhabitants of the respective states in universal, equal, direct, secret and personal election processes. The legislative period in all federal states is five years (exception: six in Upper Austria). The state diet adopts state laws in several policy areas (e.g. youth protection, kindergartens, social security), but these must be in line with the Federal Constitution (European Commission, Eurydice Network, 2020).

Executive at the federal state level

Federal state government (Landesregierung)
Administration in the federal states is the duty of the state governments. A state government is made up of the governor, their deputies, and other members of government (Landesräte).

Federal state governor (Landeshauptmann or Landeshauptfrau)
The governor represents the federal state. A governor has no authority over the other members of government on matters concerning the state. On matters of importance to the state, the state government makes decisions as a collegiate body. As regards indirect federal administration, the state governor acts as the administrative authority, who is bound by instructions from the federal ministers and authorised to give instructions to the other members of government (Austrian Press & Information Service in the United States, Embassy of Austria, 2020b).

Judiciary at the federal state level

Regional administrative court (Landesverwaltungsgericht)
There is a regional administrative court for each federal state. The state administrative courts have general jurisdiction: if the federal government is not responsible, the state administrative courts hear complaints (including in tax matters) (Federal Ministry for Digitization and Economic Affairs 2020).

Executive at the sub-state level (districts)

District administrative authorities (Bezirksverwaltungsbehörden)
The district administrative authorities perform federal or state administrative activities that are outsourced to the districts. The head of the district administration (as a civil servant) is appointed by the state government. The other employees are also state officials or state employees (austria-forum.org 2020).

The municipalities are the smallest units in the state organisation and as such have no legislative powers.

Executive at the local level (municipalities)

Municipal councils (Gemeinderat) are the general representative bodies elected by the citizens of a municipality. The municipal council is the main decision-making body of a municipality. In carrying out tasks pertaining to the municipality’s own sphere of competence, the other municipal bodies are responsible to the municipal council. It is responsible for local tasks (e.g. adopting the municipality’s budget and preparing the municipality’s final balance sheet, maintaining schools, etc.). In cities, the municipal council is called the ‘city council’ (City of Vienna 2020).

The mayor (Bürgermeister) presides over the municipal council and is elected by the municipal council or by all citizens entitled to elect the municipal council. The mayor is answerable to the municipal council for all matters within the municipality’s own sphere of competence (City of Vienna 2020).

Figure 2: Planning system of Austria

Figure 2: Planning system of Austria (ÖROK 2018)

Figure 3: System of powers of Austria

Figure 3: System of powers of Austria

Spatial planning system

Brief history of spatial planning in Austria

While the first laws with relevance for planning (building restrictions, etc.) were passed in the 19th century, the main origin of spatial planning can be found in the amendment to the Constitutional Act 1925, which defines building matters as a remit of the federal states. The Housing Development Act 1933 was introduced in Austria in 1939 during the Second World War. After 1945, the existing housing development laws were viewed in a negative light because of their association with National Socialism. In 1954, the Constitutional Court allocated the competence for the legislation and execution of general spatial planning to the federal states, after which the federal states started to adopt their housing development laws and passed their own spatial planning legislation until 1973 (ÖROK 2018).

A milestone for Austria’s regional planning was the establishment of planning regions in Salzburg in 1992. On this regional level, the municipal associations aim to prepare proposals for local spatial development, to collect statements of opinions on land use plans and to coordinate among the municipalities. Subsequently, other federal states also implemented regional associations, with different areas of responsibility and forms of cooperation (ÖROK 2018).

Substantial changes in the spatial planning process occurred through the accession of Austria to the EU in 1996 and other changed (international) conditions. Certain relevant EC Directives have been implemented in spatial planning laws and it must be ensured that all of these are in conformity with EU law. Additionally, problems concerning the execution of the plans in (local) spatial planning were observed and new instruments were implemented, e.g. measures to minimise the surplus of building land in order to mobilise it (‘proactive land policy’) (ÖROK 2018).

Starting in 2005, cooperative and participatory planning approaches became increasingly important. Based on a great deal of expert discussions and publications, the role of specific actors in a planning process changed (‘governance approach’). The interaction between key actors or groups is essential to reach decisions on spatial development. Also, the involvement of citizens is growing – through information, participation, collaboration, cooperation or co-determination. Many different types of decisionmaker are involved and all relevant interests are included, which leads to an increasingly interdisciplinary planning approach. 

Legal basis/constitutional framework of spatial planning

In Austria, spatial planning is a competence of the federal states. Consequently, Austria does not have a federal act on spatial planning, but nine instances of legislation at the federal state level. Although the federal states have structured their planning systems in a comparable way, there are some differences in the formal process, intermunicipal planning or cooperation, rules and conventions related to retail developments, the use of financial instruments to influence developments and the influence of the federal states. The federal level is responsible for some sectoral planning competences that influence the spatial structure of the country, such as water, forests, railways, federal roads, mining and energy. The federal states also have powers for sectoral planning with significant territorial impacts, such as construction, nature conservation, housing subsidies and land transfer. Local spatial planning is the responsibility of the municipalities (ÖROK 2018).

The Austrian spatial planning system has three main levels:

  • the federal government is responsible for sectoral planning (sector plans);
  • the federal states implement sectoral planning and are responsible for state/regional spatial planning (state development strategies: mid- to long-term strategic documents; sectoral plans);
  • the municipalities are responsible for local spatial planning (local development strategies: main strategic plan with short- to long term objectives; land use plans which contain general zoning regulations and permitted types of land use; and regulatory plans which detail permitted developments).

Some states have also added a regional planning level between the federal state level and the municipalities which varies considerably from state to state (ÖROK 2018).

The relationship between different planning levels is generally hierarchical. State development strategies are therefore binding for municipalities. Restrictions on local planning activities in state development strategies are however only permitted provided the scope of the municipalities’ competence is considered and the regional interests of a planning measure take precedence. This is particularly the case in state planning for central facilities, shopping centres, key infrastructure such as wind farms, industrial or commercial areas as well as settlement borders and large undeveloped zones. In addition, all three levels cooperate in the Austrian Spatial Planning Conference (ÖROK) (ÖROK 2018).

Spatial planning authorities

  • ÖROK – Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning (Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz)

The Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning (ÖROK) is a permanent body made up of representatives from the federal government, states and municipalities to enable cooperation among all relevant territorial authorities. Since 1981, it has developed the Austrian spatial development strategy every 10 years and provided a non-binding strategic guideline for federal spatial development over the following decade. Its members include all federal ministers and heads of the federal states, the presidents of the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns and the Austrian Association of Municipalities as well as the heads of the social and economic partners with a consulting vote. To execute its tasks at the administrative level, ÖROK employs a Standing Subcommittee as well as several committees and working formats that are made up of representatives of the territorial authorities and the social and economic partners. Apart from the formal bodies, soft governance formats have been gaining significance for ÖROK’s work in recent years.

Systematic monitoring of spatial development has been implemented since 2011. Instruments of the Regional Monitoring System: ÖROK Atlas: web tool which is based on the contents of ÖREK, Austrian Spatial Development Strategy, 2011 and offers many different materials and indicators for spatial planning analysis in Austria. Spatial Planning Report: published every three years; contains analyses of relevant spatial developments and reports on the activities of ÖROK members relevant to spatial development (ÖROK 2018 & 2020).

  • Federal ministries (Ministerien)

Several ministries on the federal level are responsible for sectoral planning. For example, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism (Bundesministerium für Landwirtschaft, Regionen und Tourismus) is responsible for water, forestry, agriculture, etc. and the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (Bundesministerium für Klimaschutz, Umwelt, Energie, Mobilität, Innovation und Technologie) is responsible for federal roads, railways, mining and energy, etc. There are some federal sectoral plans with major spatial implications in relation to these competencies, which are binding for all planning authorities (ÖROK 2018).

  • Federal states (Bundesländer)

The federal states deal with other aspects of sectoral planning (construction, nature conservation, housing subsidies, land transfer) and regional spatial planning (planning laws [Raumordnungsgesetz, ROG], regional development plans/strategies). The main competences in Austria’s planning system are located on the federal state level. The regional spatial development plans stipulated by decree are legally binding for municipalities and define spatial development goals and measures. If a regional spatial development strategy is not stipulated by decree, the legally binding effect is significantly reduced (this is different in every federal state) (ÖROK 2018).

  • Regional planning authorities

The regional planning level is becoming increasingly important in spatial planning in Austria. The regional planning level differs from state to state in terms of its competences, whether its planning is legally binding or informal, etc., and usually formulates regional spatial planning programmes or specific plans for certain sectors (ÖROK 2018).

  • Municipalities (Gemeinden)

Local spatial planning is a competence of the municipalities. They have no legislative responsibility, but execute local spatial planning. The municipalities have far-reaching planning powers, which include all building permission procedures and the formulation of local spatial plans (land use plan/zoning plan; development plan). The federal states must support the municipalities by providing various planning tools (ÖROK 2018).

Spatial planning instruments

There is a wide range of different planning instruments throughout Austria and their number has increased in recent years. In addition to all sovereign instruments that exist on the federal, state, regional or municipal level, other informal and conceptual instruments exist, which are used increasingly often (strategies, schemes, concepts, etc.). In addition, instruments for cooperation and consensus are used (participation, information, moderation, citizen’s initiatives, etc.) (ÖROK 2018).

The most relevant and frequently used spatial planning instruments in Austria are briefly outlined below. There is also a relevant figure in the appendix.

  • Austrian Spatial Development Strategy

Content of plan: Strategic steering instrument for overall spatial planning and development on all levels as a programme for action and guidance for all stakeholders
Participation: extensive participation process ongoing (ÖREK 2030), encompassing conferences, discussion groups, think tanks, young experts
Authorisation process, competences, time frame: voluntary agreement of all ÖROK members; strategic steering instrument for coordination; time frame of 10 years

  • Sectoral plans with major spatial implications

Content of plan: Based on federal constitutional responsibilities such as transport, mining, forestry, water, energy, etc.
Participation: differs for each document or plan
Authorisation process, competences, time frame: different authorisation processes and time frames for each document or plan; binding for all planning authorities

  • Regional development plans/strategies

Content of plan: Strategic frameworks for the spatial development of federal states
Participation: differs for each document or plan; written statements of opinion from stakeholders
Authorisation process, competences, time frame: authorisation by state governments; plans binding for all actors; the strategies are largely advisory rather than obligatory; time frame generally 10 to 15 years

  • Development strategies on regional level

Content of plan: Mid-term perspectives for regional/spatial development and regional cooperation; content and function vary significantly from state to state
Participation: differs for each document or plan
Authorisation process, competences, time frame: different authorisation processes and time frames for each document or plan; legally binding in some states, but generally advisory in nature

  • Municipal development strategy

Content of plan: Spatial development strategies for municipalities
Participation: differs for each document or plan; often created with significant participation from citizens and statements of opinion from stakeholders
Authorisation process, competences, time frame: authorisation by the municipal council; binding for all planning authorities; time frame generally 10 to 15 years

  • Land use plan/zoning plan

Content of plan: Local zoning regulations that establish the right to build (in accordance with building regulations), drawn up by municipalities and approved at the state level
Participation: no participation process, only statements of opinion from stakeholders
Authorisation process, competences, time frame: authorisation by the municipal council; binding for all actors; time frame between 5 and 10 years

  • Building regulation plan

Content of plan: Detailed plan with building regulations showing individual plots and buildings; covers entire municipalities or selected neighbourhoods
Participation: no participation process, only statements of opinion from stakeholders
Authorisation process, competences, time frame: authorisation by the municipal council; binding for all actors; time frame between 5 and 10 years

In Austria, there are many informal planning instruments (guidelines, schemes, strategies) as well as sovereign regulations on zoning and development (planning laws, land use plans, etc.) in the federal states (regional planning) and municipalities (local planning). Additionally, cooperative planning approaches that involve citizens or provide information and enable participation and collaboration are used. In planning processes, negotiated planning measures are used, which involve all actors and result in spatial planning contracts. The legal basis for those contracts is defined in the spatial planning laws of the federal states, for which there are several different systems in practice. What is particularly important in Austrian spatial planning, however, is the collaboration of all the different levels using the many formal, informal and cooperative planning instruments. To harmonise all the relevant instruments, many authorities and decision-makers in different expert areas are involved and the work is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary (ÖROK 2018).

As described in the previous paragraph, the planning processes in Austria are very diverse. However, one such planning process will be outlined using an example in Vienna: 

aspern Seestadt

Vienna’s fast-growing 22nd district is the setting for one of Europe’s largest urban development projects. A new urban centre is being created which combines an energy-saving layout (‘smart city’), a transport strategy that avoids motorised vehicles and urban design. The masterplan envisages the development of a multifunctional district with a mix of residential, office, scientific, research and educational uses in a multi-phase development through to 2028. The lake at the centre of the new district will give it its name: Seestadt. Many green and public spaces, the proximity to the Donau-Auen national park and high-quality urban infrastructure should guarantee an enduringly high quality of life in this newly built part of Vienna. 

Planning authorities involved
The Wien 3420 Aspern Development AG (in the following: ‘Wien 3420’) was established to develop and promote aspern Seestadt as an urban centre within the city of Vienna. In addition, the aspern Seestadt coordination unit governs the collaboration between Wien 3420 and the public administration of Vienna, where several municipal departments (Magistratsabteilung, MA) are responsible (MA 18 Urban Development and Planning, MA 21 District Planning and Land Use, MA 20 Energy Planning, MA 28 Road Management and Construction, MA 32 Parks and Gardens). Additionally, several other stakeholders from public transport and infrastructure (Wiener Linien, Wiener Stadtwerke Group), public utilities (Wien Energie, Wiener Netze), subsidised housing (wohnfonds_wien) and Aspern Smart City Research participate in the planning process. 

Planning instruments used

  • masterplan
  • land use plan
  • building regulation plan
  • strategic environmental assessment
  • environmental impact assessment
  • contractual agreements between the development agency Wien 3420, Business Agency Vienna and wohnfonds_wien and property developers

Role of EU cohesion policy
The EU cohesion policy influences aspern Seestadt indirectly by promoting research projects. The EU’s smart city policy also influences the development of aspern Seestadt: The City of Vienna seeks to implement smart city goals in its urban development policy. aspern Seestadt is the largest implementation project of Vienna’s smart city framework strategy (Wien 3420 aspern Development AG, n.d.).

The main challenges relating to spatial development in Austria are: 

  • Regional disparities and demographic change (especially in rural areas and in relation to maintaining public services)
  • Global competition (including the challenges of digitalisation with impacts on urban and rural regions)
  • Increasing land take and loss of agricultural land
  • Rising land and property prices in urban areas
  • Climate change (mitigation and adaptation measures)
  • Commuter traffic in large cities and their surroundings
  • Overtourism (especially in Alpine regions)

To summarise the future outlook, spatial planning in Austria is becoming increasingly regulated because the current planning processes that are often based on cooperation are frequently unable to respond adequately to the above challenges. In practice, executing and applying spatial planning processes will become more difficult, and expert knowledge will become increasingly important. Also, planning documents are now made available to the wider public due to increased digitalisation and the drive for transparency. Nowadays, more and more procedures and plans have been migrated to web-based platforms (e.g. electronic land use plans) (ÖROK 2018).

Important stakeholders

Institution/Stakeholder/Authorities Research field/Competencies/Administrative area
ÖROK – Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning (Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz) Permanent body made up of representatives from the federal government, states and municipalities to enable cooperation among the territorial authorities; publishes the Austrian Spatial Development Strategy every 10 years
Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism (Bundesministerium für Landwirtschaft, Regionen und Tourismus) Coordinates spatial development and has competence for sectoral planning (e.g. water, forestry, agriculture)
Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (Bundesministerium für Klimaschutz, Umwelt, Energie, Mobilität, Innovation und Technologie) Sectoral planning competences (e.g. federal roads, railways, mining, energy)
Federal state governments and administration (Länder) State/regional planning (planning laws, regional development plans/strategies) and sectoral planning (construction, nature conservation, housing subsidies, land transfer)

Different in all nine federal states
The Austrian Association of Cities and Towns (Österreichischer Städtebund) Represents the interests of its 255 members including all towns with more than 10,000 inhabitants and many smaller towns; budgetary negotiations; exchange of experience; publications; participation at EU level
Association of Austrian Municipalities (Österreichischer Gemeindebund) Represents the interests of the 2,084 municipalities through various committees; budgetary negotiations; exchange of experience; publications; participation at EU level

Fact sheets


  • Attachment 1: Topographic map of Austria (ÖROK 2020)

  • Attachment 2: Administrative map of Austria (ÖROK 2020)

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