The highest federal authorities in the Federal Republic of Germany are the federal ministries, each led by a federal minister nominated by the federal chancellor and appointed by the federal president. The Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development (BMVBS) is responsible for spatial planning. It is also the most important federal government investor, since all federal responsibilities for transport and physical infrastructure are concentrated under its roof.

A particularly important subordinate higher federal authority within the purview of the BMVBS is the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR). The BBR assists the federal government with expert advice on spatial and urban planning, as well as on housing and building. Within the BMVBS, the (standing) Conference of Ministers for Spatial Planning (MKRO) and the Advisory Council on Spatial Planning are two important advisory institutions (=Federal Insitute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development)

Binding land-use plan

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The binding land-use plan lays down legally binding rules for the development and organisation of sections of the municipal territory. It is developed on the basis of the preparatory land-use plan, but, unlike the latter, it creates direct rights and duties with regard to the utilisation of the sites within its purview. It can determine the category of use and degree of building coverage, type of development (open or closed), and lot coverage. It can also earmark sites for mitigation measures to offset intrusions, as well as sites for ancillary structures such as parking space and garages, vehicular and pedestrian infrastructure, and green spaces. Pursuant to the Land Utilisation Ordinance, the binding land-use plan can categorize land-use areas (for example as purely residential areas, general residential areas, mixed use areas, commercial areas, industrial areas). The degree of building coverage can be determined by setting the plot ratio, floorspace index, cubing ratio, height of structures, and number of full storeys.

Permissible lot coverage can be set by means of building lines, set-back lines, or coverage depths. Binding land-use plans also serve as the basis for other urban development activities provided for in the Federal Building Code, such as land reallocation, expropriation, and improvement. Plan preparation procedure is regulated in detail by the Federal Building Code. The binding land-use plan is adopted as a bye-law by the local council; it is therefore generally binding, also on private individuals. The binding land-use plan consists of a plan with legend, textual designations and information for the record, as well as an explanatory memorandum, including an environmental report. A special form of binding urban land-use planning is the project-based binding land-use plan. Such plans permit the municipality to grant permission for projects where, on the basis of a project and infrastructure plan agreed with the municipality, the project developer undertakes to complete the plan within a certain delay and fully or partly assumes planning and land improvement costs.


The term “Stadteil” refers to a subdivision of a town or city. A number of meanings can be distinguished.
In the narrower, administrative sense, “Stadtteil” or “Ortsteil” refers to a district officially designated by the municipality with a name of its own. In many cases the area in question was formerly an independent municipality that has become part of the present municipality by annexation or merger. In many states, representative assemblies can be elected in districts. Furthermore, a district can constitute a planning or statistical spatial unit. In some states in Germany, districts in large cities are integrated into “Stadtbezirke,” superordinate districts which general have a district assembly and administration. Depending on the local government constitution of each state, the powers vested in districts differ considerably.

“Quartier,” “Stadtviertel,” and “Kiez,” in contrast, are informal terms for limited, spatially and socially coherent urban areas best described in English as “neighbourhoods.” Their boundaries are flexible, depending as they do on the perception of residents, and do not correspond to official district boundaries. Such areas defined more in terms of functional criteria are the areas of application for local development promotion programmes such as the “Socially Integrative City” and neighbourhood management.

brownfield site

The German term “Brachfläche,”, is not clearly defined and covers a broad field of meaning. Its origins are in agriculture, where “Brache” means “fallow (land)” land left uncultivated for a year to restore its fertility in the three-field crop rotation system. In urban studies and urban planning practice, “Brache” has been applied to abandoned or formerly developed land particularly since the 1970s, when economic and technical structural change led to the widespread abandonment of sites. In contrast to fallow land in agriculture, the derelict or vacant sites in this context are not deliberately taken out of the use cycle, but usually find no subsequent use.

There are many and varied reasons, such as the type and state of the sites. Vacant land can be categorized in terms of descriptive attributes (former use, size, contamination risk, etc.), economic attributes (cost and yield aspects), temporal aspects (short-term or permanent abandonment), and action-oriented aspects (need for intervention to change locational qualities enabling revitalisation or subsequent use).

building line

Permissible lot coverage, i.e., the proportion of the surface area of a site which may be built on, can be fixed by setting building lines, set-back lines or coverage depths in a binding land-use plan. When a building line is stipulated, development must take place along this line; whereas a set-back line sets a boundary beyond which no building or part of a building on the site may extend. Coverage depth stipulates also sets a limit which may not be exceeded. Minor departures may be permitted from all three of these limits.

Building permit

Permission for the construction, alteration, demolition, or conversion of a physical structure is required from the competent authority. It must be granted on application by the project sponsor if there is no legal impediment to the project. Building permission is therefore strictly governed by planning laws and regulations and other relevant legislation, for instance that relating to pollution and water. In individual cases, the building authorities may use its discretion to allow exceptions, exemptions or derogations. In most cases the competent authorities are county or municipal building inspectorates referred to variously as "Bauordnungsamt" or "Bauaufsichtsamt." The details of application and permission procedures are set forth in state building regulations.

building permit authority

see "building permit"

building regulations

Unlike planning law (urban development law), building regulations (or building control law) are the purview of state legislation. Building regulations thus apply only within the state concerned. This allows state governments to take account of conditions specific to the given territory. As a rule, state building regulations are based on standard building regulations elaborated by the Conference of the Ministers and Senators of the States Responsible for Building, Housing and Settlement (ARGEBAU).

State building regulations contain substantive provisions relating to construction on site, as well as procedural provisions on building permission procedures and the organisation of building authorities. One key aspect of the substantive arrangements is conformity with generally accepted technical standards and technical building regulations in order to avert any risk to public safety and order.

built use class

The Land Utilisation Ordinance classifies types of building use. It distinguises two categories: First, land-use areas for general types of use:

  • housing land
  • mixed building land
  • industrial and commercial land
  • special building land

This rough classification is to be used only in the preparatory land-use plan. Second, land-use areas for specific types of building use:

  • small holding areas
  • purely residential areas
  • general residential areas
  • special residential areas
  • village areas
  • mixed areas
  • core areas
  • commercial areas
  • industrial areas
  • special areas.

These specific land-use areas can be designated in both the preparatory and the binding land-use plan and are finer-grained and more detailed categories. The Land Utilisation Ordinance defines all the above development areas and provides details on what building projects and facilities are permitted.