Overview

Geography

Latvia is located in Northeastern Europe, along the shores of the Baltic Sea (and the Gulf of Riga). It borders Estonia to the north, Russia to the east, Belarus to the southeast, and Lithuania to the south. Latvia’s advantageous location between the two other Baltic countries with access to the sea has ensured the historical development of the capital city of Riga as an important port city in the region.

The total length of the Latvian border is 1900 km (Klišāns et al. 2022). The total length of the seacoast is 497 km. The landscape of the coastal region is mostly flat and gently sloping towards the sea. The coastline is relatively straight and has only a handful of places with distinct curvatures known as horns (rags) (e.g. Akmeņrags, Mērsrags, Ķurmrags). Historically, the seacoast has been an active space for locals. Nowadays, it is saturated with historical sites, ethnical cultural spaces, coastal lifestyle heritage, unique nature values, and recreational opportunities (Lapinskis 2021).

Latvia is essentially an undulating plain, with fairly flat lowlands (covering 60.3% of the territory) alternating with uplands (covering 39.7% of the territory). The land surface lies between 0 and 312 m above sea level. The highest elevation point (Gaiziņkalns) is in the Central Vidzeme Upland, reaching 311.9 m above sea level. Despite the seemingly uniform relief and comparatively small area, Latvia has a great variety of natural conditions. About 50% of the land is covered in forests, and 35% is designated for agricultural uses (Nikodemus 2022). Latvia also has a comparatively large number of protected nature areas. There are 683 protected nature areas in total, of which 333 territories are included in the net of Natura 2000: four strict nature reserves, four national parks, 239 nature reserves, 37 nature parks, nine protected landscape areas, seven protected marine areas, nine natural monuments, and 24 micro reserves (Nature Conservation Agency of the Republic of Latvia, 2021).

Latvia has a very low population density (30 inhabitants/km2), ranking in the bottom eight among the European countries together with Lithuania and Estonia. That is unsurprising, with more than half of the country’s population living in Riga and its surrounding municipalities. However, it creates challenges for strategic and spatial planning on national, regional, and local scales.

Social

The total population of Latvia is 1,875,757 (2022), with 605,802 inhabitants living in Riga and 383,723 more in Pierīga (Riga’s surrounding municipalities). Since 1990, the population of Latvia has declined by 29% and continues to decline. The population of Latvia is also ageing. At the beginning of 2021, 20.8% of the population (393,700 people) was aged 65 and over. Ageing is a common trend in many EU countries, posing challenges for spatial planning and the economy (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia 2022).

Historically, many different ethnicities inhabited the territory of Latvia. The highest share of Latvians in the total population was recorded during the first period of independence (as high as 77% in 1935). During the Soviet occupation, the share of Latvians dropped (down to 52% in 1989) but increased again after the restoration of independence. In 2021, 1.2 million Latvians (62.7%) lived in Latvia. Russians form the second largest ethnic group,

with 500,000 people (24.5%). Other ethnicities in Latvia account for considerably smaller shares, e.g. Belarusians (3.1%), Ukrainians (2.2%), Poles (1.9%), Lithuanians (1.1%), Roma (0.3%), and Jews (0.2%) (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, 2022). Also, it is important to emphasise that the share of Russians varies based on geographical location, e.g. Russians formed 36% of the population in Riga in 2021 compared to 48% in Daugavpils (the second largest city in Latvia) or 10% in Valmiera.

The official language of Latvia is Latvian. The second most commonly used language is Russian. The existing research shows that about 64% (2019) use the Latvian language for communication at home, 67% for communication with friends, and 70% for communication with strangers on the street. The share of Latvian language use at work or in similar situations is typically above 80% (Latvian Language Agency 2020). Nevertheless, the language issue in Latvia is sensitive and politically charged.

Political, legal and governance

Since the restoration of independence, Latvia has been a democratic republic with the sovereign power of the state vested in the people of Latvia (according to Chapter I of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia). It is a parliamentary democracy with an elected body of representatives – the Saeima (or Parliament of the Republic of Latvia), composed of 100 members. The Saeima elections are held every four years (Plepa/Ījabs 2022).

The Seaima elects a president (head of state) who primarily holds a representative role. The highest executive power of the state is held by the Cabinet of Ministers (or the Cabinet). It is composed of the Prime Minister and the departmental ministers chosen by the Prime Minister (Constitutional Assembly 1922). The number of ministers and ministries has changed several times over the last 30 years. In 2022, there are 13 ministries and ministers in Latvia. A ministry is the managing (highest) institution of the relevant sector of state administration. The ministry primarily develops the sectoral policy on the national level and organises and coordinates the implementation of laws and other regulations (Saeima 2002).

On the local (municipal) level, the executive and decision-making powers lie with local governments that perform their functions through bodies of representatives elected by citizens (councils) and established authorities and institutions. One of their functions is to ensure strategic and spatial planning on the local level (Saeima 1994).

Since 1991, one of the main objectives of Latvia’s foreign policy was to become a part of Europe’s political, economic, and security structures. Latvia applied to join the EU in 1995 and became a member state in 2004. The same year Latvia also became a NATO member. In 2014, Latvia joined the eurozone (Klišāns et al. 2022).

General information

Name of country Latvia
Capital, population of the capital (2020) Riga, 627,487 (Eurostat )
Surface area 64,590 km² (World Bank)
Total population (2020) 1,900,449 (World Bank)
Population growth rate (2010-2020) -9.40% (World Bank)
Population density (2020) 30.5 inhabitants/km² (World Bank)
Degree of urbanisation (2015) 34.79% densely populated areas (European Commission)
Human development index (2021) 0.863 (Human Development Reports)
GDP (2019) EUR 25,331 million (World Bank)
GDP per capita (2019) EUR 13,236 (World Bank)
GDP growth (2014-2019) 17.19% (World Bank)
Unemployment rate (2019) 6.31% (World Bank)
Land use (2018) 2.08% built-up land
39.5% agricultural land
53.63% forests and shrubland
0.24% nature
4.55% inland waters
(European Environment Agency)
Sectoral structure (2017) 73.7% services and administration
22.4% industry and construction
3.9% agriculture and forestry
(Central Intelligence Agency)

Appendix 1: Administrative-territorial structure of the Republic of Latvia (2021)

Copyright: SIA ‘Jāņa sēta’

Source: https://enciklopedija.lv/skirklis/121992-Latvija

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

Administrative structure and system of governance

The current system of governance and administration was developed after the restoration of independence on 4 May 1990. Between 1990 and 1993, state institutions created under the Soviet occupation were dissolved or transformed. As a result, many institutions were created anew, and some institutions that functioned in the Republic of Latvia before 1940 were renewed. The reform of state administration was considered completed in 1995. In developing the new system of governance and administration, the experience was primarily drawn from the UK, Germany, and New Zealand (Reinholde/Danovskis 2022).

Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. The Constitution (Satversme) establishes the fundamental rules for the system of government and the fundamental human rights of the citizens. According to the Constitution, the state’s power and competences are divided among several constitutional institutions: the citizens of Latvia (people), the Saeima (or the Parliament), the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, the State Audit Office, the courts, and the Constitutional Court. The one-chamber Parliament is the main elected institution. It consists of 100 members, elected in general, equal and direct elections. The functions of the Saeima include legislation, presidential elections, attestation of the Cabinet of Ministers, attestation of judges, and other important political functions (Constitutional Assembly 1922). 

Alongside the vast functions of the Saeima, Latvia follows the principle of power tripartition. The Cabinet of Ministers (or the government) has executive power, the Saeima together with the government has legislative power, and the Latvian courts exercise judicial power (Klišāns et al. 2022). The Cabinet of Ministers is composed of the Prime Minister and the departmental ministers chosen by the Prime Minister. It holds the highest executive power of the state. The number of ministers has changed several times over the last 30 years. In 2022, the Cabinet included the Prime Minister and 13 departmental ministers: the Minister of Defence, Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Education and Science, Minister of Economics, Minister of Culture, Minister of Welfare, Minister of Transport, Minister of Health, Minister of Agriculture, and the Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional 

Development (Saeima 2008a). After the parliamentary elections in October 2022, a new Cabinet of Ministers was formed, introducing an additional departmental minister – the Minister of Climate and Energy.

The Cabinet deliberates draft laws prepared by the ministries, matters which pertain to the activities of more than one ministry, and issues of state policy raised by individual members of the Cabinet (Constitutional Assembly 1922). The Cabinet exercises executive power through its subordinate state administration institutions, e.g. ministries. The link between the Cabinet and the Saeima is ensured by the Parliamentary Secretaries. A member of the Cabinet can appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to liaise with the Saeima and its committees, represent the relevant member of the Cabinet in the legislative process in the Saeima, participate in the drawing up and examination of draft laws, and carry out other tasks given to them by the member of the Cabinet (Saeima 2002).

In Latvia, the system of administration is decentralised with two administrative levels – central and local. The central or direct administration includes the State Chancellery, ministries and their subordinate institutions (e.g. inspectorates and state agencies), and other institutions under the supervision of the Cabinet of Ministers (e.g. the Curruption Prevention and Combatting Bureau). The State Chancellery is an institution of the central public administration directly subordinated to the Prime Minister. It is comprised of the Prime Minister’s Office, departments, divisions, and individual units set up by the Director of the State Chancellery. The State Chancellery ensures and controls the compliance of policy documents and draft legal acts of the Cabinet with legal requirements; develops and implements policy action plans in various areas; presents opinions on policy documents and legal acts; and organisationally ensures the work of the Cabinet. A ministry is the managing (highest) institution of the relevant sector of the state administration. The ministry organises and coordinates the implementation of laws and regulations and participates in the development of the sectoral policy. The ministry is subject to the direct control of the minister. The administrative head of a ministry is the state secretary, who is also responsible for the organisation of the transfer of the records and documents from the previous minister to the new minister (Saeima 2002).

The tasks associated with territorial development are within the competence of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development. The ministry implements and evaluates regional policy at the state level, provides methodological guidelines, supervises the territorial development planning process, and ensures the development and supervision of local governments with the overall goal of achieving a well-balanced and sustainable development of the country.

The local or indirect administration primarily includes local governments and other institutions and officials of derived public entities. The territorial structure of Latvia has a long history dating back to the 9th century. The rural municipalities as administrative units appeared in the 16th century, but their function as self-governing entities started in the 18th century. After the establishment of the Republic of Latvia in 1918, the government kept the administrative-territorial division of districts (apriņķi) and rural municipalities (pagasti). These were eventually reformed under the Soviet occupation, with 58 districts (rajoni) introduced in 1950. The number of districts was gradually reduced until it reached 26 districts in 1967. After the restoration of independence, the administrative-territorial division of Latvia underwent two major transformations. The first took place in 2009 with a transition from a two-level municipal governance system to a one-level municipal governance system. In 2011, there were 119 local governments: 9 cities and 110 rural municipalities (novadi). The most recent administrative-territorial reform was carried out in 2021 to reduce the fragmentation of administrative territories and ensure broader development opportunities for local municipalities. The number of local governments was reduced to 43: seven local governments of state cities (valstpilsētas) and 36 municipality governments (novadi). Territorially, the (rural) municipalities are formed of towns and rural territories (pagasti). Alongside the administrative-territorial division, there are five distinct cultural and historical regions (Vidzeme, Latgale, Kurzeme, Zemgale, and Sēlija) and five planning regions (Kurzeme, Latgale, Riga, Vidzeme, and Zemgale) (Klišāns et al. 2022).

Although a planning region is a derived public entity and nowadays plays an important role in regional planning and development, it has no executive power. Its decision-making institution is the Planning Region Development Council. It is elected from among the councillors of the relevant local governments by a general assembly of the chairpersons of local governments located in the planning region.

The local governments have a broad spectrum of obligations and functions. For example, the local governments are obliged to ensure the preparation of a development programme, the implementation of the territorial development plan and the administrative supervision of territorial planning on the local level, the collection of taxes and fees, and the preparation and approval of the local government budget. However, their functions primarily include providing various services to the residents, e.g. utilities, transport, education, and health services, as well as executing control or supervisory tasks, e.g. ensuring the lawfulness of the building processes. In carrying out their functions, the local governments have the right to establish local government institutions, found associations or foundations and capital companies, acquire and expropriate movable and immovable property, privatise facilities owned by the local government, enter into various transactions, introduce local fees and determine their rate, decide on tax rates and tax relief, bring actions in court and raise complaints with administrative institutions. The byelaws of the local government describe the administrative (executive) structure, competences, and functions of various governance structures, e.g. committees, various procedures, and other aspects of the local government (Saeima 1994).

The decision-making and policy-making within a local government lie with a Council composed of elected councillors and managed by a chairperson (or the Mayor). A Council elects standing committees from among the councillors. The standing committees prepare issues for examination at council meetings, provide opinions on questions within the competence of the committee, monitor the work of the local government institutions following the procedures laid down by the local government byelaws, examine draft budgets of local government institutions and submit them to the finance committee, approve and monitor expenditure estimates of local government institutions, and perform other duties described in the byelaws (Saeima 1994). Typically, the spatial and strategic planning tasks are divided among two or three standing committees. The municipal government also exercises rights to form commissions, working groups, and other representative bodies with an advisory capacity. These usually include various stakeholders, e.g. councillors, municipal experts, representatives of NGOs, or local companies. It is common to have at least one commission that deals with urban planning and development (Akmentina 2022).

The execution of the local government functions is delegated to various administrative structures, municipal institutions, agencies, capital companies, or associations. The responsibilities for strategic and spatial planning are typically delegated to two or more administrative units or two or more subdivisions of a given administrative unit. In either case, the partition of strategic (soft) planning and spatial (land-use, hard) planning also extends to the administrative structures. Moreover, the majority of local governments in Latvia typically outsource the preparation of the local planning documents to planning consultancy companies, with the local governments primarily supervising the process (Akmentina 2022).

Both central and local administrative levels provide opportunities for the direct involvement of the public in the decision-making, policy-making, and planning processes. These can include public discussions, surveys, working groups, and other engagement formats.

Alongside the legislative and executive power, there is independent judicial power. The purpose of the judicial system in Latvia is to protect the rights of any person against threats to their life, health, personal freedom, honour, dignity, and property. The task of the judicial system is to ensure an open, independent, and objective examination of civil, criminal and administrative cases, and cases of administrative offences, based on complete equality. The courts of the Republic of Latvia justly and objectively resolve disputes or penalise lawbreakers. The procedure for court proceedings is determined by the Civil Procedure 

Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Law on Administrative Liability, and Administrative Procedure Law (Litvins 2022). The judges are appointed and removed from their posts by the Saeima. They are inviolable and independent and subject only to the law. Interference with judicial proceedings is not permitted (Constitutional Assembly 1922).

The court system in Latvia follows a hierarchical structure. The judicial power is vested in district (city) courts, regional courts, the Supreme Court, and the Constitutional Court. A district (city) court is the court of the first instance for civil, criminal, and administrative cases and examines Land Register cases. A regional court is an appellate instance for civil, criminal, and administrative cases. In Latvia, there are six regional courts: the Riga Regional Court, Kurzeme Regional Court, Latgale Regional Court, Vidzeme Regional Court, Zemgale Regional Court, and the Regional Administrative Court. The Supreme Court (or the Senate) is a cassation instance. Cases are examined by a panel composed of three senators, or by an extended panel, or in a joint meeting. The Supreme Court is composed of the Department of Administrative Cases, the Department of Civil Cases, and the Department of Criminal Cases (Augstākā Padome 1992). The Constitutional Court examines cases on the compliance of laws and other regulatory enactments with the Constitution and other cases within its jurisdiction. The Constitutional Court is comprised of seven judges, who are confirmed in office by the Saeima for a term of 10 years (Latvijas Republikas Satversmes tiesa, n.d.)

Finally, it is also worth mentioning the supreme audit institution – the State Audit Office, an independent audit institution specified in the Constitution. The function of the State Audit Office is to establish whether public resources (state, municipal, EU or other) are being spent legally, correctly, efficiently, and in accordance with the public interest. Any legal or physical person managing and/or administering public resources or executing public procurements, as well as state-owned enterprises, municipality-owned enterprises, and private enterprises where the state or a local government hold shares are subject to an audit by the State Audit Office. Only the Saeima is not subject to audit by the State Audit Office. The State Audit Office regularly performs financial audits in ministries and other central government agencies. It performs a financial audit of the consolidated annual financial report of the state, where annual reports of all ministries, central governmental agencies, and local and regional governments are consolidated. Overall, the State Audit Office assesses whether systems, programmes, activities, transactions and/or information comply in all material respects with the laws and regulations, planning documents, and nationally (or internationally) recognised best practices (State Audit Office of the Republic of Latvia, n.d.).

Appendix 2: Administrative structure of the Republic of Latvia (author’s illustration)

Appendix 3: System of Powers of the Republic of Latvia (author’s illustration)

Spatial planning system

The spatial planning system in Latvia is comparatively recent, having been formed and transformed over the last 30 years. After the restoration of independence in 1990, Latvia underwent a transformation of its political system and economic system as well as extensive institutional reforms and significant sociodemographic shifts. One major aspect of the institutional and political transformation was the shift from a centralised, top-down planning system to a decentralised, integrated, and comprehensive one (Auziņš/Jürgenson/Burinskiené 2020). This shift was gradual, characterised by continuous changes in the legal framework (Reģionālās attīstības un pašvaldību lietu ministrija 2009) and two administrative-territorial reforms.

In 1991, the government of the Republic of Latvia established two laws delegating the responsibilities for spatial planning and building control to local governments, both urban and rural (Reģionālās attīstības un pašvaldību lietu ministrija 2009). The first legal framework for spatial planning followed later. It was based on some elements of the Soviet planning practice, some elements from the pre-Soviet period, and international experiences. In 1992, there was a seminar in Riga where many Western countries presented their planning systems to local experts. It resulted in the selection of the Danish planning system as the basis for the new Latvian planning system. However, due to anticipated challenges resulting from privatisation and other processes, Canadian building regulations were also adapted and made binding (Akmentina 2018).

The first regulations on territorial planning were adopted in 1994. These regulations defined the planning system in Latvia, the competences of the state and municipalities, and the minimum requirements for public engagement in the planning process. The newly adopted planning system did not last long. In 1998, a new legal framework was established, consisting of cabinet regulations on territorial plans (24 February 1998) and the Territory Development Planning Law (30 October 1998). The new law combined development and spatial planning in a single set of planning documents. Four years later, the next major changes took place. In 2002, the Spatial Planning Law and Regional Development Law came into force. The new legislation introduced a regional planning level (planning regions), resulting in a four-level planning system (national, regional, and two local (municipal) levels). The Regional Development Law also introduced additional planning documents (besides spatial plans) – the national development plan, regional policy guidelines, and various development programmes (Reģionālās attīstības un pašvaldību lietu ministrija, 2009).

However, the planning system as we know it nowadays dates back to the first administrative-territorial reform in 2009. It marked the transition from a two-level municipal governance system to a one-level municipal governance system and consequently from a four-level planning system to a three-level one. In 2009, the Development Planning System Law came into force, defining all types and levels of development planning documents in one hierarchical system (Saeima 2008b). This law was succeeded by the Spatial Development Planning Law in 2011 (in force since 2012), which focuses in more detail on all three planning levels, the respective planning documents, the competences of the public institutions, and public participation in spatial development planning. Both laws (with amendments) are still in force today, defining the overall legal framework for the Latvian planning system (Saeima 2011).

The current planning system is structured around three planning levels –national, regional, and local. Development can be planned for the long term (up to 25 years), medium term (up to seven years), and short term (up to three years). Hierarchically, the shorter-term documents are subordinated to the longer-term documents, and the lower-level development planning documents are subordinated to the higher-level planning documents. The content of and procedures for preparing the planning documents are outlined in the relevant Cabinet Regulations. 

Each planning document is approved by the relevant public authority (Saeima 2008b).

National (state) level

On the national level, the main actors involved in the planning process are the Saeima, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Cross-Sectoral Coordination Centre (CSCC), the National Development Council, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, and other sectoral ministries. The Cabinet of Ministers has many competences, including drawing up national development planning documents and approving the national thematic plans and maritime spatial plan. The Cabinet of Ministers can also define, establish and approve objects of national interest and the requirements for their use. The CSCC is the leading administrative institution in national development 

planning and coordination in Latvia under the direct authority of the Prime Minister. The CSCC is responsible for developing and monitoring the highest national development planning documents (Sustainable Development Strategy of Latvia and National Development Plan) and the implementation of national development planning documents in relation to the EU. The highest national development planning documents are approved by the Saeima. However, the supervision and monitoring of their implementation is ensured by the National Development Council, an institution composed of several ministers and representatives of other institutions and organisations (Saeima 2011).

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development is responsible for planning development. The ministry is responsible for developing the maritime spatial plan and national thematic plans according to their competence. The ministry also ensures the maintenance of the national spatial development planning information system. Other sectoral ministries can prepare proposals, advance them for defining objects of national interest, and, if necessary, develop thematic plans (Saeima 2011).

In drawing up development planning documents, the responsible institutions must consider and comply with the long-term strategy document ‘The Model for Growth of Latvia: Human Being in the First Place’. This document outlines the long-term vision and guiding principles for national development. The hierarchically highest long-term development planning document is the Sustainable Development Strategy of Latvia. It describes national long-term development priorities and the spatial development perspective of the state. The hierarchically highest medium-term development planning document is the National Development Plan. The National Development Plan outlines the state’s development objectives, priorities, intended outcomes, directions for actions for each priority, the policy results to be achieved, and the authorities responsible for implementation (Saeima 2008b).

Regional (planning regions) level

On the regional level, the main actors involved in the planning process are the planning regions and their Development Councils, local governments, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, and other public institutions. The planning regions are responsible for developing and approving the regional planning documents and coordinating and monitoring their implementation. The local governments, in their turn, can submit proposals for the development of regional-level development planning documents. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development assesses the conformity of draft regional planning documents with national-level spatial development planning documents and the requirements described in relevant laws and regulations. All public authorities and institutions are required to provide the information necessary for preparing the regional spatial development planning documents (Saeima 2011).

There are two planning documents developed on the regional level in Latvia: the Sustainable Development Strategy of a Planning Region and the Planning Region Development Programme. The strategy is a long-term spatial development planning document outlining the long-term vision, strategic objectives, priorities, and the spatial development perspective in texts and graphs. It is developed in accordance with the national long-term strategic objectives and considers the strategies of the adjacent planning regions and local governments in the planning region. A Planning Region Development Programme is a medium-term regional planning document. It incorporates an analysis of the current situation, trends, and forecasts for the planning region and defines medium-term priorities, a set of measures for their implementation, and monitoring procedures. A Planning Region Development Programme is developed in accordance with the National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Strategy of the Planning Region. It is based on the development programmes of local governments that are located within the relevant planning region. It must also consider the development programmes of adjacent planning regions (Saeima 2011; Cabinet of Ministers, 2013). 

When necessary, the Planning Region Development Council takes a decision to prepare or update a sustainable development strategy or development programme, whereby they nominate a development manager to be in charge of the preparatory process and approve a work programme that outlines the preparation procedure and timeline, envisaged content of the document, and the public engagement plan. The preparatory process typically includes an analysis of the current situation and related planning documents, the development of strategies or planning solutions, a monitoring plan for implementation, and a public consultation on the draft document (minimum duration: 30 days). After the public consultation, the draft document is improved based on the suggestions received and sent for review to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development. The ministry provides feedback on the conformity of the draft regional planning document with national-level spatial development planning documents and relevant laws and regulations within 30 days. Afterward, the planning region makes adjustments to the draft document (if necessary) and approves the final version with the decision of the Planning Region Development Council. If major changes to the initial draft document are needed, the planning region ensures another public consultation on the revised document (Ministru kabinets 2013).

Local (local governments) level

On the local level, the main actors involved in the planning process are the local governments and their institutions, planning consultancy companies, planning regions, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, and other public institutions. Other actors involved in local planning processes are developers, property owners, businesses, and civic actors. The local governments are responsible for developing and approving local planning documents. One exception is Detailed Plans that can be initiated by a property owner and prepared externally with the approval of the local government (Saeima 2011; Ministru kabinets 2014). Those local governments that do not have sufficient resources or capacity to ensure full preparation of the planning documents outsource the preparation to planning consultancy companies, retaining a primarily supervisory role (Akmentina 2022).

The relevant planning region monitors the preparation of the local sustainable development strategies, development programmes, spatial plans, and local plans. It provides opinions on the conformity of the draft local development strategies and programmes with the relevant regional planning documents and laws and regulations. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development evaluates the conformity of local spatial plans and local plans with laws and regulations. The minister can suspend the binding regulations which approve the spatial plan or local plan if the ministry has identified a non-conformity with the existing legal framework. Other actors can be involved in the preparation of the local planning documents in different ways, e.g. through participation in local governance structures (e.g. commissions) or involvement in working groups (Saeima 2011).

The local planning documents include the (1) Sustainable Development Strategy, (2) Development Programme, (3) Spatial Plan, (4) Local Plan, and (5) Detailed Plan. The Development Strategy and Programme are considered strategic planning documents. The Development Strategy is a long-term spatial development planning document that outlines the vision, strategic objectives, development priorities, and spatial development perspective of the local government. The spatial development perspective describes and graphically illustrates the envisaged spatial structure of the whole municipal territory, including the main functional areas and structural elements, e.g. the settlement structure and proposals for development areas or centres, the spatial structure of nature areas, or main transport corridors and infrastructure objects. The Development Strategy is developed in accordance with the Sustainable Development Strategy of the Planning Region and takes into account the spatial development planning documents of adjacent local governments (Saeima 2011; Ministru kabinets 2014).

The Development Programme is a medium-term planning document, and includes an analysis of the current situation, trends and forecasts, medium-term development priorities, the action plan, and an investment plan. It also outlines the procedures for monitoring the implementation of the Development Programme. The action plan lists the envisaged activities, their implementation timeframe, the institution responsible for the implementation, funding sources, and outcomes. The investment plan provides a list of planned investment projects, their implementation timeframe, the institution responsible for the implementation, funding sources, and outcomes. The Development Programme is prepared in accordance with the local sustainable development strategy and takes into consideration spatial development planning documents at the national and regional level, as well as the spatial development planning documents of adjacent local governments (Saeima 2011; Ministru kabinets 2014).

When it is necessary to prepare a new Development Strategy or Development Programme or update the existing one, the local government council takes a decision to start the process. With this decision, they nominate a development manager to be in charge of the preparatory process and approve a work programme that outlines the preparation procedure, timeline, and public engagement plan. The public engagement plan typically includes a citizens’ survey, workshops, thematic working groups, and public discussion(s). Based on the work programme, the local government or the local government in cooperation with a planning consultancy company (subcontractor) draws up the draft document. The draft document is submitted to the planning region for review and subjected to a public consultation process that lasts a minimum of four weeks. Based on the feedback from the planning region and the results of the public consultation, the local government makes a decision to either improve the document and put the revised version out for another public consultation and hold another review process or to approve the strategy or programme. In the case of the Development Programme, the action plan and the investment plan is updated at least once a year in accordance with the annual municipal budget (Ministru kabinets 2014).

The Spatial Plan specifies the functional (land use) zoning and public infrastructure for the whole municipal territory. It stipulates land use and building regulations and other conditions for and restrictions on land use. The Spatial Plan typically has three main parts: (1) the explanatory note, (2) the graphical part (land use zoning map), and (3) land use and building regulations. The Spatial Plan is prepared in accordance with the local sustainable development strategy and takes into consideration other national, regional, and local level spatial development planning documents (Saeima 2011; Ministru kabinets 2014).

A Local Plan is prepared upon the initiative of the local government and used as the basis for further planning and building design. A Local Plan can be used to detail the Spatial Plan. Similarly to the Spatial Plan, a Local Plan typically has three main parts: (1) the explanatory note, (2) the graphical part, and (3) land use and building regulations (Saeima 2011; Ministru kabinets 2014).

The procedure for preparing the Spatial Plan and Local Plan is similar to that of the Development Strategy or Programme. It starts with a decision of the local government council, the nomination of a development manager to be in charge of the preparatory process, and the approval of a work programme. The work programme describes the justification for preparing the spatial planning document, the specific issues to be resolved in the document, the institutions that should provide information for the preparation of the document and opinions on the draft document(s), and public engagement formats and activities. Based on the work programme, the local government or the local government in cooperation with a planning consultancy company (subcontractor) draws up the draft plan. If necessary, a strategic environmental impact assessment is also developed. Once the documents are drafted, they are submitted for review to all the relevant institutions and subjected to the public consultation process that lasts a minimum of four weeks. Based on the results, the local government decides to improve the spatial planning document, to approve it, or to reject it (Ministru kabinets 2014). Typically, a Spatial Plan or a Local Plan requires improvements followed by another public consultation process before its final approval. Sometimes the preparation of a Spatial Plan can go through several draft versions and take several years.

A Detailed Plan is typically developed before commencing new construction in complex planning situations or for the subdivision of land units, or it is indicated as a requirement in the higher spatial planning documents. It details the land use and building regulations specified in the Spatial Plan or Local Plan. A Detailed Plan usually has three main parts: (1) the explanatory note, (2) the graphical part, and (3) land use and building regulations. The land use zoning and other requirements are detailed for each land unit (Saeima 2011; Ministru kabinets 2014). 

The preparation of a Detailed Plan can be initiated by a property owner or their authorised representative. However, the local government is responsible for deciding whether to prepare a Detailed Plan or reject the request. If the local government decides to prepare a Detailed Plan, they nominate a development manager from the local government to supervise the process and approve a work programme. The local government also agrees with the initiator of the process about the timeline, the developer of the plan, and the funding of the process. Once a draft plan is ready, the local government decides to either put it out for public consultation or requests changes based on the suggestions of the development manager. The public consultation lasts a minimum of 30 days. Based on the results of the public consultation and opinions received from the relevant institutions, the local government decides to approve a Detailed Plan and issue an administrative act, or to request that the Detailed Plan be improved or overhauled in a new version, or to reject it providing adequate justification. Any disputes between the local government and the initiator relating to the implementation of the Detailed Plan are dealt with in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Law (Ministru kabinets 2014).

Appendix 4: Planning system of the Republic of Latvia (author’s illustration)

The practical examples of different planning instruments demonstrate two types of plan-making: (1) strategic planning that produces visions for future development, long-term and medium-term objectives and priorities on national, regional, and local levels, and (2) land use planning that deals with specific uses of different areas and building regulations primarily on the local level. For over a decade, strategic planning instruments have also incorporated spatial components or perspectives that link the strategic objectives more directly with land use planning. However, the perceived significance of both planning types and the interests of different stakeholders differ.

Although crucial for the allocation of budgetary expenditures and setting preconditions for long-term spatial development, strategic planning tends to attract less attention and interest from various stakeholders. The planning process typically incorporates various public engagement activities, e.g. citizen surveys, working groups, and expert discussions. However, the formally required public consultation process on the draft planning documents often receives little attention. Hence, the planning process can be completed comparatively quickly (in less than two years), although there are exceptions to this (e.g. Riga city).

The land use planning processes tend to be more complex, but it largely depends on the planning task. Preparing a spatial plan for the whole territory of a local government typically requires two or three versions of a draft planning document before the local government approves it. Local and Detailed plans can take less time if there is no public opposition. In extreme cases, development projects can face serious opposition from local communities through protests, petitions, or even legal proceedings that can stall the planning process for a long time. Local authorities nowadays aim to avoid significant conflicts through early public information and engagement activities. They also tend to facilitate mediation between stakeholders if needed. However, there are still cases when the needs of the local communities are overlooked to facilitate growth-oriented development. Overall, there is an ongoing shift in power dynamics among different stakeholders in Latvia, which largely depends on the local political leadership.

Strategic planning nowadays is also influenced by global and European tendencies. There is an increasing number of strategic planning documents attempting to address and incorporate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the basis or guiding principles for long-term development planning. More recently, the growing importance of European-level policies, e.g. the European Green Deal or the Urban Agenda for the EU, can be observed. A good example is the Riga Development Programme 2022-2027, which demonstrates the links between the proposed development priorities, SDGs, and other international, national, regional, and local policies.

The overarching planning challenges are primarily related to the key issues on global, European, and national levels. One of the major issues on the national level is demographic change with continuous depopulation and an increasingly ageing population. This is especially pronounced in the areas outside the Riga metropolitan region. The responses to this challenge tend to manifest in strategies for providing better public services, housing policy, improved quality of the living environment, and support for economic activity. Another key issue is climate change and its impact on the urban and rural environment. The policy responses are closely linked with the European Green Deal, specifically climate neutrality and energy efficiency. Related to climate action are planning challenges associated with developing transport infrastructure and facilitating more sustainable mobility. In this context, it is important to mention Rail Baltica – a greenfield rail transport infrastructure project integrating the Baltic states into the European rail network. It is positioned as the largest infrastructure project in the Baltic region in the last 100 years, posing many challenges and opportunities for development on the national, regional, and local levels. Additionally, national and local planning tends to incorporate cultural and natural heritage protection, landscape planning, green infrastructure planning, and other more place-based planning challenges.

Important stakeholders

Institution/stakeholder/authority (including webpage) Special interest/competences/administrative area
Cabinet of Ministers & Prime Minister National development planning; planning legislation
Cross-Sectoral Coordination Centre National development planning and coordination
Latvijas Arhitektu savienība (Latvian Union of Architects) Collaborates with the state and municipal institutions for policy-making in the field of architecture and building design; provides expertise and opinions on significant development projects and plans.
Latvijas Lielo pilsētu asociācija (Latvian Association of Large Cities) Represents the interests of member cities in policy-making, including urban planning;facilitates collaboration among member cities on different issues.
Latvijas Lielo pilsētu asociācija (Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments) Contributes to developing municipal policies, solving common problems, and defending the interests of local governments on national and international levels;organises training for local government deputies and employees.
Latvijas Teritoriālplānotāju asociācija (Latvian Association of Spatial Planners) Involved in the creation of spatial development planning policy and legislation in Latvia.
Local governments Prepare and approve local planning documents;coordinate and monitor the implementation of the local planning documents.
/Local non-governmental or community organisations (e.g. Rīgas Apkaimju alianse and other Riga neighbourhood organisations) Represent the interests of the specific communities and civic groups in the plan-making and city-making processes.
Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development Maritime spatial planning; regional policy and development; supervision of spatial planning on regional and local levels; methodological support for spatial planning; maintenance of the Spatial Development Planning Information System
National Development Council National development planning and evaluation of the long-term development of the country
Planning consultancy companies (e.g. SIA Metrum, SIA Grupa93, SIA Reģionālie projekti, and others) Plan-making on regional and local levels (preparation of various planning documents); research and consultancy work on various planning issues
Planning Regions (Rīgas, Vidzemes, Kurzemes, Zemgales, Latgales) Regional-level development planning; coordination between the local and regional level of development planning; coordination and monitoring of the implementation of regional plans
Planning Region Development Councils Decision-making for regional-level development planning
Saeima (Parliament) Approval of national development planning documents; planning legislation
Urban movements/activists (e.g. Pilsēta cilvēkiem, Free Riga, and others) Advocacy for better city planning in Riga and other Latvian cities; alternative planning approaches and solutions

Fact sheets

Attachments

List of references

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