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TI Latvia wins at the Constitutional Court

Illegal constructions stopped

The people of Garkalne have won a victory before the Constitutional Court on the basis of a petition prepared by Transparency International Latvia. The ruling allows TI Latvia to demand that the Ministry for Regional Development and Local Government Affairs (RAPLM) and the Environmental Ministry evaluate the lawfulness of other local government territorial plans, repealing these as necessary.

TI Latvia prepared a petition on behalf of the residents of the Garkalne Parish (exclusive residential area on the coast of the lake Baltezers), and on February 8, 2007, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Garkalne territorial plan was unconstitutional in that it provided for construction in a territory which is in the flood plain of the Lielais Baltezers lake. The ruling means that the relevant ministries must now evaluate the extent to which territorial planning in other local government territories is in line with the law on protected zones. TI Latvia has already submitted a request of that kind to the Environmental Ministry and the RAPLM. TI Latvia has asked the minister for regional development to repeal those parts of territorial plans which speak to construction on flood plains, asking the relevant local governments to amend their plans.

The Constitutional Court, in its ruling, interpreted Article 37.1 of the law on protected zones in the context of the constitutionally guaranteed right to a favourable environment. The ruling prohibits construction on territories that may be flooded as seldom as once every 100 years. In rural territories, only buildings meant for short-term use are permitted. The Constitutional Court has also pointed to the ban against building special protective structures or creating causeways with the aim of constructing permanent or short-term buildings in the relevant protected zone.

The Constitutional Court has also pointed to the ban against embankments in parts of cities and villages which are sometimes flooded if the aim is to put up buildings. Local governments must take this goal into account when engaging in territorial planning, and embankments must not be allowed for construction purposes.

The practice of the Environmental Ministry and the Ministry for Regional Development and Local Government Affairs has been such that TI Latvia has reason to believe that the two ministries have accepted other local government territorial plans which are in violation of the law on protected zones as interpreted by the Constitutional Court and which provide for construction on flood plains.

The legal analyst for TI Latvia, Kristaps Markovskis: “Until the constitutional complaint of the people of Garkalne, the two responsible ministries had done absolutely nothing to stop illegal construction on flood plains. On the contrary – the Environmental Ministry supported construction on embankments, interpreting the law on protected zones completely differently than the Constitutional Court has done. The Environmental Ministry refused several times to halt construction on flood plains. The RAPLM, for its part, only halted the Garkalne territorial plan after the Constitutional Court had already announced that it would rule on the constitutional complaint from local residents. Prior to that, the RAPLM had refused to act.”

The case was launched before the Constitutional Court after 49 residents (headed by the Executive Chair of TI Latvia Roberts Putnis) prepared a constitutional complaint with the help of TI Latvia. The petitioners asked that the court declare as unconstitutional the parts of the Garkalne Parish territorial plan which spoke to construction on the flood plain of the Lielais Baltezers lake, pointing to Article 1 (Democratic State) Article 115 (Protected Environment) of the Constitution. They asked that the plan be declared null and void from the moment that it took effect on January 4, 2005. The court issued its ruling on February 8, 2007.

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