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Poland, officially Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska), is located in central Europe, between the Baltic Sea to the North and the Sudeten and Carpathian to the South, Neisse and Oder rivers to the West and Bug river to the East. The territory of the country stretches approximately between latitudes 49° and 55° N and longitudes 14° and 24° E. Poland is bordered to the North by the Baltic Sea (395 km), to the Northeast by Russia (210 km) and Lithuania (104 km), and to the East by Belarus (418 km) and Ukraine (535 km). Southern neighbours of Poland are Slovakia (541 km), and Czechia (796 km) while the western border is shared with Germany (467 km). Polish territory consists almost entirely of lowlands within the North European Plain. Only its southern part is characterised by a landscape of highlands, and mountains (the highest point, Rysy, 2499 m above the sea level, is a peak in the Tatra Mountains). The landscape of the inland from the Baltic Sea coast is diversified with lakes and hills of glacial origin. The area of the two biggest lakes – Śniardwy and Mamry – exceeds 100 square km. Main rivers, Vistula and Oder, belong to Baltic Sea drainage area. 

The political system of Poland is defined in the Constitution adopted in 1997 on the basis of the national referendum. This act transformed the former socialist state into a mixed presidential-parliamentary democratic republic. The constitution defines that legislative power is vested in the parliament, executive power is vested in the president and the Council of ministers (thus, the government), and the juridical power is vested in courts and tribunals. The President of Poland is directly elected to not more than two 5-years terms. Despite a strong democratic mandate, his/her role is not essential in the executive: s/he serves as a commander in chief of the army, can veto an act of the parliament (which can be rejected by a 3/5 majority vote). Under specific conditions, s/he has a power to declare martial law or a state of emergency. The president nominates the prime minister and the ministers (Council of ministers), however the final decision lays with the parliament, who is also empowered to dismiss the cabinet but only by a constructive vote of no confidence. 

The Polish parliament consists of the lower house (Diet, Sejm) with 460 members elected in the general election (d’Hondt method is used to allocate the seats, and a threshold of 5% of votes for the parties and 8% for electoral coalitions are established to get to the house), and the upper house (Senate, Senat) where 100 members are elected in single-member constituencies. Both the lower and upper houses are elected on 4-years terms. Laws must be adopted by both houses; however, Sejm can reject Senate’s decision with a majority vote. The parliament appoints the ombudsperson, the chairperson of the Supreme Audit Office (Najwyższa Izba Kontroli), and together with the president, members of the National Radio and TV Council. The lower house appoints also the Chair of the Bank of Poland and the members of the Constitutional Court.

The Judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, general courts, administrative courts and military courts.

According to the National Census 2011, the majority of Polish society, namely 88,9% declares religious orientation while only 2,4% declares non-denominational orientation. 7,1% refused to answer the question about religion. The dominant position in Poland occupies the Roman Catholic Church with 87,6% of the population declaring this denomination. The second is the Orthodox Church (0,41%), followed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses (0,36%) and the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (0,18%).
The picture that rises from this statistic draws Poland as Christian and dominantly catholic country. However, the situation is dynamic if the data about religious practices are analysed. According to the Institute of Catholic Church Statistics (Instytut Statystyki Kościoła Katolickiego) the decline in religious practice during the last 30 years among Poles is evident — the mass attendance decreased from 52,7% in 1981 to 39,8% in 2015. Thus, the process of secularisation is quite dynamic.

According to the Polish government (2021) there are the following national and ethnic minorities in Poland: Belarusians (43 880 according to the National Census 2011), Czechs (2833), Lithuanians (7374), Germans (144 238), Armenians (1684), Russians (8796), Slovaks (2740), Ukrainians (38 797), Jewish (7353), Karaites (313), Lemkos (9641), Roma (16 725), Tatars (1828). There are also 400.000 people declaring the use of Kashubian language, including 100.000 declaring this language as a mother tongue. There is also a Polish dialect, not officially recognised as a language, Silesian or Upper Silesian, which is used by 510 000 people (National Census 2011). This statistic applies only to those holding Polish citizenship. There are many groups, which do not meet this criterion, including refugees, people with a right to tolerated/temporary/permanent residence. Citizens of the EU living temporarily or permanently in Poland do not count into minorities too.

The number of migrants in Poland increased in recent years. For example, in 2020 (as of 28.12.2020) there were 460.588 new residential permits issued for the foreigners (including 246.510 for Ukrainians, 28.838 for Belarusians, 20.503 for Germans, 12.588 for Russians, 10.842 for Vietnamese, 10.117 for Indians).

The official language of the country is Polish, however there are local bi-lingual areas where there is a high share of ethnic/national minorities.

Poland is a member of the EU since 1.05.2004 and Schengen area member since 21.12.2007. Currency is Polish zloty (PLN). Donald Tusk, the former prime minister of Poland, served as president of the European Council 2014-2019. Jerzy Buzek, the former prime minister of Poland, served as a President of the European Parliament 2009-2012.

General information

Name of country Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska)
Capital, population of the capital (year) Warsaw (Warszawa) 1,790,000 inhabitants (2020)
Surface area 312,705 km²
Total population (2020) 38,382,576
Population density (2020) 123 inhabitants / km²
Population growth rate (2020) -0.01 %
Degree of urbanisation (2019) 60.0 %
Human development index (2019) 0.880 (rank 35) (UNDP)
GDP (VII-IX 2020) 582494.9 million PLN
GDP per capita (2019) 59,229 PLN (71 in PPS according to Eurostat)
GDP growth (2019) 4.5 % compared to 2018
Unemployment rate (October 2020) 6.1%
Land use (2020) 30.4 % forest and scrub land 2.1 % inland waters 61.4 % agricultural land 5.6 % built land
Sectoral structure (2019) 57.9 % services and administration 30.3 % industry and construction 11.6 % agriculture and forestry

Administrative structure and system of governance

On the basis of the Act of 24 July 1998, since 1999, the three-tier administrative (territorial) structure of Poland has been introduced; it consists of województwo (voivodship, province/region), powiat (county, department) and gmina (commune). This organisation replaced the two-tier administrative division (only regions and communes) which was in force since 1975.

Council of ministers (thus, the central government) is entitled to create, merge, or divide counties and communes as well as define their boundaries, it has also the power to change the boundaries of the regions. The administrative adjustments can be only made once a year and announced on 1st January.

There are 16 voivodships and 11 of them border with other countries. Two of the voivodships share the regional capital between two cities: Zielona Góra and Gorzów Wielkopolski are the capitals of lubuskie voivodship, while Bydgoszcz and Toruń are the capital cities for kujawsko-pomorskie voivodship.

There is an ongoing debate about the change within Masovian (Mazowsze) voivodship. This region contains the capital city of Warsaw, which dominates the image and statistics of the region. One of the key problems is the proliferation between the situation (social, economic, environmental) in Warsaw and its functional area and the rest of the region. Several proposals for the split of this region have been presented and debated, but until now, none of them have been implemented.

County exists in two forms: it can be a conglomerate of several communes or a bigger city with the county status. In 1999, there were 308 counties and 65 cities with county status. In 2020 (as of 1st of January), there were 314 counties and 66 cities with county status.

Communes are the basic territorial units in Poland. They can be urban, urban-rural, or rural in terms of characteristics of the settlement structure. Urban communes are those whose boundaries coincide with the boundaries of the city or town. Urban-rural communes include both, a city or a town within their administrative boundaries and areas outside these boundaries. Rural communes do not have any cities or towns within their area.

In 1999 there were 2,489 communes (including 11 communes of the capital city of Warsaw), while in 2020 (as of 1st January) there are 2,477 communes, including 302 urban, 642 urban-rural and 1,533 rural communes

The commune's scope of activity includes all public matters of local importance, not legally reserved for other entities. The aim of the commune is to supply all collective needs, including spatial planning, real estate, economics, protection of the environment and nature, water management, development and management of the transportation system, organisation of public transport, water supply, waste management, sewage system, power supply as well as education, healthcare, social care, culture, sport and greenery. The revenues of the communes include their share in the general income taxes, and collected directly property taxes, different kinds of payments (like local markets charge, pet charge, tourist fee), income from the communal property as well as fines and financial penalties.

As of 31st December 2019, the settlement system of Poland consisted of 940 towns and cities and almost 52,5 thousand rural settlements (Tab. 1). The status of the city or town is the subject of the decision of the central government (council of ministers). Generally, there are more towns and cities located in the western and southern part of Poland than in the northern and eastern part of the country.

Poland is characterised by a polycentric urban structure. The capital city of Warsaw holds a special status defined in the Act of the polity of the capital city of Warsaw (came in force in 2002), which introduced the compulsory division of the city into the districts (quarters).

The second city is Cracow (Kraków) located in southern Poland with the 779,115 inhabitants, the third is centrally located Łódź (679,941), but this statistic is a bit misleading while looking at the territorial structure. This happens because of the specific Tri-City structure of the coastal cities of Gdańsk (470,907, 6th position), Gdynia (246,348, 12th position), and Sopot (35,719, 66th position) which form one linear urban structure with its 752,974 inhabitants in total, which is even bigger than Łódź. Next in this ranking is Wrocław (642,896) located in the southern-west part of the country, followed by Poznań (534,813), which occupies position on the line linking Warsaw and Berlin. In the „top ten” there are also the coastal city of Szczecin (401,907) located close to the border with Germany and more centrally located in the northern part of the country Bydgoszcz (348,190), and two cities situated in the eastern part of Poland — Lublin (339,784) and Białystok (297,554).

In the southern part of Poland, within Silesian region, there is an urban structure, similar to this, which can be found in Ruhr, which consists of many bigger and smaller cities and towns, located within the former coal mine area, and inhabited by almost 2,5 million inhabitants. The biggest city within this area is Katowice (292,774, 11th position in Poland). This structure forms the only formal metropolitan association in the country. Its establishment took place by the Act of March, 9, 2017 on the metropolitan association in Śląskie Voivodship under the name „Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis” (Górnośląsko-Zagłębiowska Metropolia) or „Metropolis GZM” for short. The Metropolis GZM encompasses 41 communes, including 13 cities with county status and 13 urban communes. According to the regulations, the territory of the metropolis can be changed each year on the 1st January.

The local government in Poland is organised in three levels.

On the voivodship level, legislative power is vested in the voivodship parliament (sejmik wojewódzki) elected in the regional general election for 5-years terms. Voivodship board (zarząd województwa) appointed by the regional parliament and headed by the Marshal (Marszałek) holds the executive powers.

The principle of subsidiarity applies to the regional self-government - it performs only these tasks, which cannot be performed at a more local level. This applies to all kinds of activities: development, education (including higher education), healthcare, social care, public transport and road management, environmental protection, physical activities and tourism, and others. This also applies to spatial planning. Among others, regional self-government has an exclusive power to enact planning instruments at this level.

On the regional level, the central government is represented by Voivode (Wojewoda), who is appointed by the central government, is also a head of the so-called consolidated administration. This is a part of the governmental territorial administration such as police, fire brigades, inspection of environmental protection, heritage services, pharmacological inspection, construction inspection, road transport inspection, and others. 

This coexistence of central and self-government exists only on the regional level.

The Marshal is responsible for drafting spatial planning instruments (regional spatial development plan and landscape audit) while the regional parliament holds the powers of adopting them. Typically, there are planning units within the structure of the self-government administration however their location within the administration varies. In Pomeranian Voivodship the planning unit is called Pomeranian Office for Regional Planning (PBPP, Pomorskie Biuro Planowania Regionalego), in Lower Silesia (Dolny Śląsk) this unit is known as Institute for Territorial Development (IRT, Instytut Rozwoju Terytorialnego) and in Lesser Poland (Małopolska) the planning tasks are carried out by the Department of Sustainable Development within the Marshall Office.

On the county level, legislative power is vested in the county council (rada powiatu) elected in the county general election for 5-years terms. The County board (zarząd powiatu) appointed by the council and headed by the chair (starosta) holds executive powers. Similar to the regional level, the county can only perform these tasks, which cannot be effective at the commune level. The County level is the only that has no spatial planning powers at all. It can, however represent communes in case they have no capacity to deal with their tasks, including those linked to the governance of the built environment. Especially small rural communes do not have administration big enough to be able to analyse local plans and issue building permits, thus they are allowed to transfer their competencies to the county administration.

Communes are the basic territorial units in Poland. Legislative power in the commune is vested in the commune/city council (respectively, rada gminy or rada miasta), elected in the commune by general elections for a 5-years term. The executive power is vested in the mayor (wójt in the rural communes, burmistrz in urban communes and prezydent in cities with county status), who is directly elected in the commune general elections for a 5-years term. This gives a very strong mandate to the mayor, however can create a kind of tension between the council and the mayor. It can happen, and indeed, it sometimes happens, that the majority in the council and the mayor represent opposite political options, which can lead to a specific blockage in the decision-making process. It is very difficult, almost impossible, to dismiss mayors from the office. This can only be decided by a local referendum, in which the voter turnout would be at least of 3/5 of the voter turnout of the election in which the mayor was elected.

The mayor is responsible for drafting spatial planning instruments (local spatial development plans, including local revitalisation plans and the Study) while the council is entitled to enact them. In the bigger cities there are municipal planning units, while in other places the plans can be also drafted by the private offices.

Similar to other countries, the capital city of Warsaw has a special status, defined in the Act of March, 15, 2002 on the government of the capital city of Warsaw. According to this regulation, Warsaw has to ensure the functioning of the national central institutions as well as international institutions, including embassies and consulates on its territory. The compulsory division into districts/quarters (dzielnica) can be seen as the main difference of the governing structure of Warsaw and other cities with a status of a county. The latter have a power to divide their cities into so-called auxiliary territorial units, but this depends on their will.

The metropolitan associations can only be established by a specific dedicated act of parliament and thus, both the governing structure and the competencies of the associations can vary. At the movement (2021) Metropolis GZM’s governing executive body is the governing board, which consists of a chairperson, two deputies, and two members, all elected by the general assembly of the representatives of the cities and communes of the association by double majority of votes. The Assembly acts as legislative of the association; it holds also control powers (Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis 2020).

The Act of March, 9, 2017 on the metropolitan association in the Silesian voivodship defines its competencies in, among others, the spatial order of the territory of the association, planning, coordination and integration of public transport and coordination of planning both national and regional roads. Thus, the main competencies of the metropolitan association are in fact deeply rooted in planning issues. 

The juridical system, although it is organised territorially, of course, stays independent from the territorial system of governance. It consists of the supreme court, the common courts, administrative courts and military courts. There are also tribunals, like Constitutional Tribunal for example, which are not strictly speaking, within judiciary. The common courts have a three-tier hierarchical structure: district courts (sądy rejonowe), regional courts (sądy okręgowe) and appellate courts (sądy apleacyjne). Administrative courts represent two-tier structure: regional administrative courts and supreme administrative court.

In principle the structure of the courts does not match administrative structure of the country (voivodships, counties, communes).

Administrative structure of Poland

Administrative structure of Poland

Spatial planning system

History of spatial planning system in Poland
After 123 years of nonexistence on the political map of Europe, Poland reappeared as an independent state in 1918. The formal regulation of the planning system was introduced by the Regulation of the President of Poland of February, 16, 1928 on building code and building of settlements (Rozporządzenie Prezydenta o prawie budowalnym i zabudowie osiedli). The main instruments of the planning system were regional and local plans. The quality of planning in those times can be demonstrated by innovative plans of different scales: housing projects (i.e. Rakowiec or Żoliborz in Warsaw), a plan of functional Warsaw (1934), the Central Industrial Circle (Centralny Okręg Przemysłowy) or new port and new town of Gdynia (1926-30) which functional and elegant urban structure, especially in the centre, until today, can be considered as a masterpiece of modern urban planning.

From the very beginning of the reborn state, the professionals were trained at Polish universities, in particular in Lviv and Warsaw, where there were active urbanists Ignacy Drexler and Tadeusz Tołwiński (graduated from Karlsruhe) respectively. The first Chair in urban planning was established in Lviv (Technical University) as early as 1913. Polish Society of Town Planners initiated its activities in 1923.

Polish architects and planners were active on the European level too. Architect Helena Syrkus, thanks to her language qualifications (she was fluent in French, German, Russian, among others), worked as secretary of the 4th CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne/International Congress of Modern Architecture) and was in the inner circle of the editors of the Charter of Athens.

The Second World War left Polish territory not only heavily destroyed (catastrophic damage of infrastructure, total damage of 2 m housing units, many cities, including the capital city of Warsaw, in ruins), but also „shifted” towards the west which caused considerable migration: Polish were expelled from their properties in the eastern part of the country and Germans were forced to move out from the new Polish territories. The population of Poland decreased from 35,1 m in 1939 to 23,9 m in 1946, it also lost its ethnic heterogeneity.

The planning system under the communist times was based on the Decree of April, 2, 1946 on planning spatial development of the country (Dekret o planowym zagospodorawaniu kraju), which together with the Decree of October, 1, 1947 on planning national economy (Dekret o planowej gospodarce narodowej) created the legal framework of the planning system for the following 15 years. This system was then replaced by the Act of January, 31, 1961 on spatial planning (Ustawa o planowaniu przestrzennym) and then by the Act of July, 12, 1984 on spatial planning. The key elements of all three acts were:

  • interdependency between socio-economic planning and spatial planning,
  • hierarchical, three-level system of planning: national, regional, and local,
  • planning administration on each level of planning.

It is important to be aware that under the communist regime there was no real local self-government, thus even if the plans were drafted and adopted on a regional or local level, the top-down influence existed or at least could happen at any stage.

After the transformation of 1989, the planning system has been redefined and adjusted to the new political arrangement. First, and indeed the most important factor of change, was the real self-government, which has been introduced as early as in 1990, by the Act on territorial self-government (Ustawa o samorządzie terytorialnym). That was one of the fundamental acts changing organisation of the centrally governed state into a modern democracy where self-government plays an essential role. At this stage, the administrative structure was based on a two-tier organisation formed by communes defined as basic territorial units and 49 voivodships. The new Act on spatial development (Ustawa o zagospodarowaniu przestrzennym) introduced in 1994 complemented the political change in the field of planning. Already the title of the regulation was meaningful. „Planning” was the word associated with the central planning system during the communist times and thus, was not really appreciated at the beginning of transformation. Many people at the time believed that „western countries” (European, American) do not practice any planning. Moreover, they believed that this lack of planning is one of the characteristics of the market economy.

The planning system defined in the Act of 1994 reflected the three-tier structure of governance, thus it transferred the planning powers to the local and regional authorities and kept the planning powers at the national level with the central government. It defined two planning instruments on the local level: the local spatial development plan (miejscowy plan zagospodarowania przestrzennego) and the so-called Study of the conditions and directions of spatial development (Studium uwarunkowań i kierunków zagospodarowania przestrzennego), which, in fact, was a kind of general plan for the entire territory of the commune (or city) with the binding effects only for the local plan and local administration. The regulations of the local plan framed the legal basis of issuing building permits. On the regional level the main instrument was the regional spatial development plan (plan zagospodarowania przestrzennego województwa) and on the national level the central government remained responsible for the so-called Concept of the spatial development of the country (Koncepcja przestrzennego zagospodarowania kraju). It is quite evident that the planning system did not change that much as the system of governance. In other words, the three-tier structure of planning instruments was incorporated into the new system of territorial governance. Additionally, the procedure of land development was defined in case the local plan has not been adopted for the particular area.

Spatial planning system in Poland

In 2003 the new Act on spatial planning and development (Ustawa o planowaniu i zagospodarowaniu przestrzennym), Act on planning for short, has been adopted by the Parliament and until now (2021) it forms the foundation of the planning system in Poland.

It is important to mention that the current planning system in Poland, as sketched in 2003 has been since a subject of constant evolution. Not only the act itself has been already changed numerous times, but also the planning system has been modified by regulations in other fields - environment and landscape protection, transport, development policies, conservation, use of GIS systems and many others. More than 100 legal acts form today Polish planning system. This system has been modified in addition by the regulations that meant to be temporary alas, they remain in force until now. This is, for example, a case of the Act on preparation European Football Championships EURO 2012 (Ustawa o przygotowaniu finałowego turnieju Mistrzostw Europy w Piłce Nożnej UEFA EURO 2012).

According to the Act on planning among the essential elements that have to be taken into account in spatial development are: spatial order; values of architecture and landscape; natural environment and its protection; heritage protection; health and safety of people; economic value of space and property rights; public good; infrastructure development; public participation and transparency of planning procedures.

Additionally, in spatial development, the balance between public and private interests as well as between the protection of the existing land use and transformation shall be kept.

Furthermore, planning of new spatial structures should minimalize mobility and ensure access to public transport, facilitate cycling and walking, and finally locate new development within urbanised areas and use greenfield development only in case there is no option to densify or transform existing structures.

In Poland both urban planners and architects are empowered to elaborate plans.

Three territorial levels hold the planning powers: local, regional and national.

Planning system of Poland

Planning system of Poland

National level

Until the end of 2020, the main planning instrument on the national level was mentioned above Concept of the spatial development of the country. This situation has recently changed due to the amendment of the Act on carrying out the development policy (Ustawa o prowadzeniu polityki rozwoju), which was first adopted in 2006. Currently there is no compulsory planning instrument on the national level, instead the government shall prepare a Concept of the development of the country (Koncepcja rozwoju kraju), which should include, among others, a spatial component. At the same time, the Concept of the spatial development of the country 2030 adopted in 2011 is still in force. This document in the (near?) future will be replaced by the Concept of the development of the country required by the above-mentioned amendment.

Thus, the only specific prerogative of the government defined in the Act on planning is the coordination of transnational and cross-border cooperation in planning, which is conferred to the minister responsible for regional development (art. 46a).

This change looks like technical, but in fact, it changes philosophy of the planning system, which is becoming, without perhaps conscious intention, more strategy-oriented than plan-oriented (Appendix Metropolis GZM, Appendix System of spatial and strategic planning in Poland in 2021). This transformation is not negative in principle, only there is no transparent and inclusive discussion on the model, which would meet the best present and future needs. Thus, this transformation is being introduced in a sense, accidentally.

Regional level

There are two main planning instruments on the regional level: regional spatial development plan, regional plan for short, and landscape audit (Audyt krajobrazowy). Despite these two compulsory instruments, the regulations allow the regional (self-governmental) authorities represented by the Marshall to conduct spatial analyses as well as to elaborate sectoral spatial plans or/and programmes according to the local needs (art. 38). They, however, remain optional instruments.

Landscape audit shall be prepared at least every 20 years. This instrument has been introduced into the planning system in 2015 as an implementation of the European Landscape Convention. The landscapes within the region have to be identified, described, and evaluated in this document. In particular, it shall define so-called priority landscapes, which are of especially high value for the society. In conclusion, the appropriate forms of protecting the landscapes and their components shall be indicated. Prior to approval by the regional government, the landscape audit shall be consulted with the regional director of environmental protection, directors of the national and landscape parks (which are legal forms of environmental protection), the regional heritage officer, and councils of the communes located in the region. Draft of the landscape audit shall be also made available for the general public and the comments on it shall be either included in the final version or reported to the regional parliament before the approval. Although the landscape audit is not legally binding, its conclusions and recommendations shall be taken into account while drafting the regional plan and planning instruments on the local level.

Drafting the regional plan is the responsibility of the Marshall. The document has to take into account the recommendations defined in the strategy of regional development and in the middle term development strategy of the country. The regional plan has to incorporate diagnoses of the social, economic, and spatial situation with particular focus on the functional areas, including urban functional areas, which have been prepared for the above-mentioned strategies.

The regional plan has to define: the settlement structure of the region, including transportation and infrastructural connections and transboundary interrelations; protected areas because of their environmental or cultural values; location of investments of supra-local importance; flood risk areas; “restricted” areas, which are defined by the government because of national defence and security reasons; documented mineral deposits areas and underground storages of carbon dioxide. In case there are central investments defined in the documents adopted by the parliament, government, or an empowered ministry, they have to be included in the regional plan.

The regulations allow to draft a plan of the functional area of the capital(s) of the region as a part of the regional plan.

The process of preparation of the regional plan has to follow a strict procedure that allows involved actors to participate in it (Appendix Interrelations within spatial and strategic system in Poland in 2021). There are various stages of the involvement of different stakeholders. At the regional level, the most important group is formed by the institutional actors. This latter group includes the Regional Commission on Architecture and Urban Planning, a body, which according to the Act on planning, consists of professionals appointed by the Marshall in order to advise him/her on spatial planning issues.

The monitoring procedure requires that at least once during the term of office the Regional Board has to examine changes in spatial development and prepare a report elaborating the state of spatial development of the region, which has to be evaluated by the above-mentioned Commission and presented to the regional parliament. The copy of the report has to be delivered to the ministry responsible for spatial development.

Local level

According to the Act on territorial self-government the most important planning powers are associated with the local level of self-government.

There are two compulsory planning instruments at this level: Study of the conditions and directions of spatial development (Studium uwarunkowań i kierunków zagospodarowania przestrzennego), the Study for short, which defines the spatial policy of the commune or city and a local spatial development plan (miejscowy plan zagospodarowania przestrzennego), local plan for short, with the main aim of defining land use and precise conditions of land development. In that sense, the local plan serves as one (but not the only) of the instruments of implementing the spatial policy defined in the Study.

The Study can be compared to FNP in Germany or PLU in France. It is binding only for the local plans and local administration. Mayor is responsible for drafting the Study, which has to be prepared for the whole territory of the commune. The document consists of textual and graphical components. It has to take into account the resolutions of the regional strategy of development and the regional spatial development plan. Certainly, if such a document exists, the Study has to incorporate the proposals from the local strategy of development.

The Study has to take into consideration a broad range of conditions within the commune and building on the results of the analysis has to define the following main elements: directions of the transformation of the spatial structure of the commune, including transformation of the land use; the rules of protecting the environment, nature and landscape; areas and rules of protecting the cultural heritage; directions of the development of the transportation and infrastructural systems; areas where the public investments shall be located; areas for which local plan must be or should be prepared; directions of development of agricultural land and forests; areas under the flood and land slide risks; areas that require transformation, rehabilitation, recultivation or remediation.

The Study defines the location of the wind farms or other renewable energy power-generating investments in case they are planned on the territory of the commune. The location of the retail buildings with the selling area bigger than 2,000 sq. meters has to be defined in the Study too. Additionally, the latter objects require a local plan as a basis of the construction permit.

There is a strict and quite complicated procedure of calculating the land that can be built up. This requirement arose from the fact that there is significant oversupply of the land, which can be developed in the planning documents. There are even calculations that for housing alone there is already enough land reserved in the Studies across Poland to house 130-200 m of residents (Śleszyński et al. 2015). This is clearly one of the factors facilitating urban sprawl. Additional requirement in dedicating the greenfield for development is the time horizon of 30 years.

The procedure of preparing the Study is quite similar to that of the regional plan (Appendix Procedure of drafting the regional plan in Poland).

There is quite significant difference in public participation procedures between the regional and local level. On the regional level, the dominant stakeholder is institutional. There is only one point where everyone can enter the procedure – the moment of submitting proposals to the regional plan. This element is also present in the planning instruments on the local level. However, there is also quite important moment when everyone who wants to participate can actually get involved. This is a moment of making the plan available for everyone interested in it. The minimal period of 21 working days is required for the public presentation and during this period, at least one public debate shall be organised. Public presentation includes physical presentation of the draft in the publicly accessible place, and also, the presentation of the plan on the municipal website. After this step, everyone can submit a comment, which has to be considered before the draft is sent to the commune council. The deadline for submitting comments cannot be shorter than three weeks after finishing the public presentation of the draft. Furthermore, the commune council has to be notified prior to the approval which comments were rejected.

Local plan is in fact the only planning instrument, which is legally binding. The first step in preparing the local plan needs to be done by the commune’s council, which has to enact a resolution at the beginning of preparing the local plan for a defined area. The council can pass this resolution on the request of the mayor or independently, however prior to the resolution the mayor has to analyse whether preparing the plan is legitimate and if so, gather all necessary materials and documents. No plans can be made for the “restricted” areas except for those defined by the minister responsible for transport. For the areas for which the land use is planned to change from agriculture and forestry to any other, only plan embracing the entire area for this purpose defined in the Study is allowed.

The local plan has to compulsory define, among others: land uses and rules of land development; principles of shaping spatial order and protecting environment as well as cultural heritage; requirements for forming public spaces; the land development indicators: minimal and maximal floor area ratio, minimal share of biologically active area, maximal height of the buildings, minimal number of car park lots, building lines, overall dimensions of the buildings; rules of land development for the specific areas like for example mining areas, flood and land slide risk areas; detailed conditions for the procedure of merging and dividing real estates; planning levy.

It is perhaps important to mention that planning levy in Poland does not cover the public costs for the investment and is easy to be avoided. It is calculated on the basis of the difference between the land value before and after approving the plan. It can be established up to 30% of the increase in the value of the land. It is however payable only in case of selling the land within the time framework of five years after coming local plan in force. Afterwards the planning levy is no longer applicable. Thus, typically land owners do not sell their land for five years. If the land does not change the owner, this levy is not applicable either.

The local plan can optionally define boundaries of the areas of different kind (i.e. that require rehabilitation of the buildings and infrastructure) and additionally specific location of the buildings in relation to roads or other public areas and neighbouring real estates, colours of the buildings and types of roofing as well as the minimal area of the new building plots.

Local plan shall be prepared in the scale 1:1000, however scales 1:500 and 1:2000 are also allowed in the situations when it is legitimate. In case the local plan is elaborated exclusively for forestation purposes or building interdict, the scale 1:5000 is allowed.

The procedure of preparing the local plan is similar to the procedure od drafting the Study (Appendix Procedure of drafting the Local Plan in Poland).

The local plan must be coherent with the Study and cannot break its resolutions.

The document describing in what way the public investments in the infrastructure introduced in the local plan will be implemented and financed shall be voted by the commune council together with the local plan itself.

There is also a specific kind of local plan – local revitalisation plan – defined in the Act on planning. It can only be undertaken for the area of revitalisation established within the framework of the Act on revitalisation that came in force in 2015. In local revitalisation plan it is allowed to define additional regulations comparing to the “standard” local plan. They include: the rules of harmonising new buildings with existing ones; detailed regulations concerning the facades of the buildings and equipment of public spaces, including concepts of organising the traffic; limitations for specific forms of retail or other services; requested technical infrastructure and public services. The scale for this kind of plan varies between 1:100 to 1:1000. This plan requires additional, sometimes quite complex procedures regulating the roles of public, private, and civil society within the process of revitalisation. This complexity is a bit discouraging, as until January 2021 no local revitalisation plan has been enacted in Poland. There are, however, quite advanced works over local revitalisation plans in Kalisz and in Świnoujście. This kind of plan is rather difficult for the local authorities, not only because of complicated procedures, but also because of substantial costs, including compensation and investment costs.

The mayor shall monitor the changes in spatial development and report to the commune council at least once in their term of office, whether there is a need of updating the Study or specific local plans and whether there is a need to prepare any new local plans.

The commune council is also empowered to prepare a specific resolution concerning the principles of location and shape of the advertisement boards and other advertisement devices as well as shaping the fences. The overall dimensions, materials, and other attributes of these objects can be regulated. Interestingly enough, this regulation, although it is not exactly any kind of plan, has also the status of the local law. This is commonly known as a “landscape resolution”, because it has been introduced into the planning system as a part of the implementation of the landscape convention into Polish legal system.

The local plan is a basis for issuing the construction permit for any investment. In case there is no local plan for the specific area, there is still a possibility of development the land on the basis of the administrative decision prepared by the mayor. Interestingly enough, very often developers prefer this type of procedure. This allows them to get the permit quicker and get the bigger influence on it than in the procedure of preparing the local plan. For example, the majority of the skyscrapers in the centre of Warsaw were built not on the basis of the local plans, but on the basis of this kind of administrative decision called decision on the conditions of building. This kind of decision can be only prepared for the areas which meet the following criteria: (1) at least one neighbouring plot, accessible from the same public road is built up, and this allows to formulate conditions for the further development of the land, (2) the plot has an access to the public road, (3) there is sufficient technical infrastructure for the requested investment, (4) there is no need of changing agricultural or forestry land into other land-uses, (5) the decision fulfils other regulations. The procedure of issuing this decision does not involve any public participation although there is inter-institutional consultation process over it. Similar procedure applies to public investments. It is called determination of the location of public investment.

In 2020, the novelization of the Act on planning introduced the obligation for institutions empowered to prepare any kind of plans to gather and make publicly available spatial information data.

System of powers of Poland

System of powers of Poland

Important stakeholders

Institution/ stakeholder/ authorities Research field/ Competencies/ Administrative area
Ministry of Economic Development and Technology Construction, planning and spatial development, housing policy, real estate management
Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy Managing the implementation system for European Funds (including ERDF), regional development
Society of Polish Town Planners (NGO) Planning and spatial development

Fact sheets


  • Procedure of drafting the Study in Poland (2021)

  • Procedure of drafting the regional plan in Poland (2021)

  • Interrelations within spatial and strategic system in Poland in 2021

  • Metropolis GZM as of 1 January 2020

  • Types of municipalities in Poland according to the TERYT register as of 1 January 2020

  • Administrative division of Poland - regions and counties

  • Map of Poland

  • System of spatial and strategic planning in Poland in 2021

  • Poland_Table 1.pdf (49.78 KB)
List of references

Chmielewski, J., Syrkus, S. (2013): Warszawa funkcjonalna. Przyczynek do urbanizacji regionu warszawskiego. Centrum Architektury, Warszawa.

Curtis, G.E. (1994): Poland: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. Available at: https://www.loc.gov/item/93046235/ (Accessed 11 March 2021)

ESPON (2018): COMPASS - Comparative Analysis of Territorial Governance and Spatial Planning Systems in Europe. Final Report. Available at: https://www.espon.eu/planning-systems (Accessed 28 April 2021)

European Commission (1997): The EU compendium on spatial planning systems and policies. Regional Development Studies, No. 28. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Garlicki, L. (2007): Polskie prawo konstytucyjne. 11th ed. Liber, Warszawa.

Towarzystwo Urbanistów Polskich (1972): Towarzystwo Urbanistów Polskich 1923-1973. Arkady, Warszawa.

Mizerski, W. (2020): Geografia Polski. 6th ed. Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN S.A., Warszawa.

Najwyższa Izba Kontroli (2017): System gospodarowania przestrzenią gminy jako dobrem publicznym. Informacja o wynikach kontroli. Nr. ewid. 193/2016/KIN. Available at: https://www.nik.gov.pl/plik/id,13209,vp,15626.pdf (Accessed 26 November 2021)

Polish Government (2021): Mniejszości narodowe i etniczne. Available at: https://www.gov.pl/web/mniejszosci-narodowe-i-etniczne (Accessed 29 April 2021)

Sadłoń, W. (2016): Differentiation, polarization and religious change in Poland at the turn of 20th and 21st century. Przegląd Religioznawczy – The Religious Studies Review, No. 4 (262). Available at: http://www.ptr.edu.pl/images/PR_ang_2016/2_Sadlon_Polarisation_2.pdf (Accessed 11 March 2021)

Statistics Poland (2021): Narodowy Spis Powszechny Ludności i Mieszkań 2011. Available at: https://stat.gov.pl/spisy-powszechne/nsp-2011/nsp-2011-wyniki/ (Accessed 26 November 2021)

Statistics Poland (n.d.): Podział administracyjny Polski. Available at: https://stat.gov.pl/statystyka-regionalna/jednostki-terytorialne/podzial-administracyjny-polski/ (Accessed 26 November 2021)

Statistics Poland (2019): Religious denominations in Poland 2015–2018. Available at: stat.gov.pl (Accessed 26 November 2021)

Statistics Poland (2020): Area and population in the territorial profile in 2020. Available at: stat.gov.pl (Accessed 26 November 2021)

Statistics Poland (2020): Concise Statistical Yearbook of Poland. Available from: stat.gov.pl (Accessed 26 November 2021)

Statistics Poland (2020): Demographic Yearbook of Poland 2020. Available at: stat.gov.pl (Accessed 26 November 2021)

Statistics Poland (2020): Labour force survey in Poland – quarter 3/2020. Available at: stat.gov.pl (Accessed 26 November 2021)

Syrkus, H. (1976): Ku idei osiedla społecznego 1925-1975. Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa.

Śleszyński, P.; Andrzejewska, M.; Cerić, D.; Deręgowska, A.; Komornicki, T.; Rusztecka, M.; Solon, J.; Sudra P.; Zielińska, B. (2015): Analiza stanu i uwarunkowań prac planistycznych w gminach w 2014 roku. Instytut Geografii i Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania PAN na zlecenie Ministerstwa Infrastruktury i Budownictwa, Warszawa.

Węcławowicz, G. (2018): Geografia społeczna Polski. Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN SA., Warszawa.


Legal acts
(all available from ISAP - Internetowy Syatem Aktów Prawnych https://isap.sejm.gov.pl/isap.nsf/home.xsp):

Dekret z dnia 2 kwietnia 1946 r. o planowym zagospodarowaniu przestrzennym kraju (Dz.U. 1946 Nr 16 poz. 109) - archive version

Dekret z dnia 1 października 1947 r. o planowej gospodarce narodowej (Dz.U. 1947 Nr 64 poz. 373) - archive version

Konstytucja Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z 2 kwietnia 1997 r. (Dz.U. 1997 Nr 78 poz. 483)

Rozporządzenie Ministra Infrastruktury z dnia 12 kwietnia 2002 r. w sprawie warunków technicznych, jakim powinny odpowiadać budynki i ich usytuowanie (t.j. Dz. U. z 2019 poz. 1065)

Rozporządzenie Ministra Infrastruktury z dnia 26 sierpnia 2003 r. w sprawie wymaganego zakresu projektu miejscowego planu zagospodarowania przestrzennego (Dz.U. 2003 nr 164 poz. 1587)

Rozporządzenie Ministra Infrastruktury z dnia 26 sierpnia 2003 r. w sprawie sposobu ustalania wymagań dotyczących nowej zabudowy i zagospodarowania terenu w przypadku braku miejscowego planu zagospodarowania przestrzennego (Dz.U. 2003 nr 164 poz. 1588)

Rozporządzenie Ministra Infrastruktury z dnia 26 sierpnia 2003 r. w sprawie oznaczeń i nazewnictwa stosowanych w decyzji o ustaleniu lokalizacji inwestycji celu publicznego oraz w decyzji o warunkach zabudowy (Dz.U. 2003 nr 164 poz. 1589)

Rozporządzenie Ministra Infrastruktury z dnia 28 kwietnia 2004 r. w sprawie zakresu projektu studium uwarunkowań i kierunków zagospodarowania przestrzennego gminy (Dz.U. 2004 nr 118 poz. 1233)

Rozporządzenie Ministra Infrastruktury z dnia 13 maja 2004 r. w sprawie wzoru rejestru decyzji o warunkach zabudowy oraz wzorów rejestrów decyzji o ustaleniu lokalizacji inwestycji celu publicznego (Dz.U. 2004 nr 130 poz. 1385)

Rozporządzenie Ministra Infrastruktury i Budownictwa z dnia 1 lipca 2016 r. w sprawie zakresu projektu miejscowego planu rewitalizacji w części tekstowej oraz zakresu i formy wizualizacji ustaleń miejscowego planu rewitalizacji (Dz.U. 2016 poz. 1032)

Rozporządzenie Ministra Transportu i Gospodarki Morskiej z dnia 2 marca 1999 r. w sprawie warunków technicznych, jakim powinny odpowiadać drogi publiczne i ich usytuowanie (t.j. Dz.U. 2016 poz. 124)

Rozporządzenie Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej z dnia 16 lutego 1928 r. o prawie budowalnym i zabudowaniu osiedli (Dz.U. 1928 Nr 23 poz. 202) - archive version

Rozporządzenie Rady Ministrów z dnia 11 stycznia 2019 r. w sprawie sporządzania audytów krajobrazowych (Dz.U. 2019 poz. 394)

Ustawa z dnia 31 stycznia 1961 r. o planowaniu przestrzennym (Dz.U. 1961 Nr 7 poz. 47) - archive version

Ustawa z dnia 28 maja 1975 r. o dwustopniowym podziale administracyjnym Państwa oraz o zmianie ustawy o radach narodowych (Dz.U. 1975 nr 16 poz. 91) - archive version

Ustawa z dnia 12 lipca 1984 r. o planowaniu przestrzennym (Dz.U. 1984 Nr 35 poz. 185) - archive version

Ustawa z dnia 8 marca 1990 r. o samorządzie terytorialnym (Dz.U. 1990 Nr 16 poz. 95) - archive version

Ustawa z dnia 8 marca 1990 r. o samorządzie gminnym (t.j. Dz.U. 2020 poz. 713)

Ustawa z dnia 7 lipca 1994 r. Prawo budowlane (t.j. Dz. U. z 2019 r. poz. 1186)

Ustawa z dnia 7 lipca 1994 r. o planowaniu przestrzennym (Dz.U. 1994 Nr 89 poz. 415) - archive version

Ustawa z dnia 3 lutego 1995 r. o ochronie gruntów rolnych i leśnych (t.j. Dz.U. 2017 poz. 1161)

Ustawa z dnia 21 sierpnia 1997 r. o gospodarce nieruchomościami (t.j. Dz. U. z 2018 r. poz. 2204)

Ustawa z dnia 5 czerwca 1998 r. o samorządzie województwa (t.j. Dz.U. 2019 poz. 512)

Ustawa z dnia 5 czerwca 1998 r. o samorządzie powiatowym (t.j. Dz. U. z 2020 r. poz. 920)

Ustawa z dnia 27 kwietnia 2001 r. Prawo ochrony środowiska (t.j. Dz.U. 2019 poz. 1396)

Ustawa z dnia 15 marca 2002 r. o ustroju miasta stołecznego Warszawy (t.j. Dz.U. 2018 poz. 1817)

Ustawa z dnia 27 marca 2003 r. o planowaniu i zagospodarowaniu przestrzennym (t.j. Dz. U. z 2018 r. poz. 1945)

Ustawa z dnia 23 lipca 2003 r. o ochronie zabytków i opiece nad zabytkami (t.j. Dz. U. z 2018 r. poz. 2067 z późniejszymi zmianami ostatnia z 2019 r. poz. 730)

Ustawa z dnia 16 kwietnia 2004 r. o ochronie przyrody (t.j. Dz. U. z 2018 r. poz. 1614)

Ustawa z dnia 6 grudnia 2006 r. o zasadach prowadzenia polityki rozwoju (t.j. Dz.U. 2019 poz. 1295)

Ustawa z dnia 7 września 2007 r. o przygotowaniu finałowego turnieju Mistrzostw Europy w Piłce Nożnej UEFA EURO 2012 (Dz.U. 2017 poz. 1372)

Ustawa z dnia 9 października 2015 r. o rewitalizacji (t.j. Dz.U. 2018 poz. 404)

Ustawa z dnia 20 maja 2016 r. o inwestycjach w zakresie elektrowni wiatrowych (t.j. Dz.U. 2019 poz. 654)

Ustawa z dnia 9 marca 2017 r. o związku metropolitalnym w województwie śląskim (Dz.U. 2017 poz. 730)

Ustawa z dnia 20 lipca 2017 r. Prawo wodne (t.j. Dz.U. z 2018r. poz. 2268 z późniejszymi zmianami, ostatnia z 2019 r. poz. 1495)

Ustawa z dnia 5 lipca 2018 r. o ułatwieniach w przygotowaniu i realizacji inwestycji mieszkaniowych oraz inwestycji towarzyszących (Dz. U. z 2018 r. poz. 1496, z późniejszymi zmianami, ostatnia z 2019 r. poz. 630)

Official websites:

Upper Silesian-Zagłębie Metropolis (Górnośląsko-Zagłębiowska Metropolia). Available at: https://metropoliagzm.pl/en/ (Accessed 29 April 2021)