Environment Ministry seeks to stem disappearance of farmland under new development


Agricultural land is fast disappearing under concrete in the Czech Republic and the pace is getting faster rather than slowing down. That is one of the main reasons why the Ministry of Environment is making a last minute bid to pass a new law that could put a brake on the process. Chris Johnstone reports.

Every day in the Czech Republic around 15 hectares of agricultural land disappear under new development, much of it the type of urban sprawl that eats into the countryside on the outskirts of towns or cities or new massive warehouses and industrial units besides motorways.

While some of that development could have been expected as the country sought to catch up with the West after the collapse of Communism, the pace of urbanisation has been speeding up rather than slowing down in recent years.

That has sounded alarm bells. On Tuesday the Ministry of Environment called for Parliament to find time during its next session to pass a long-stalled proposal which would penalise property developers who build on the best agricultural land. Minister of the Environment Jan Dusík:

“We have seen over the years a growth in the number of hectares per day. You can see since 2000, every day there is 12-15 hectares of land being built on in the Czech Republic. This is an upward trend and we want to use this economic instrument to limit it.”

Jan Dusík, photo: CTKJan Dusík, photo: CTK The proposal seeks to revise charges levied when agricultural land is authorised for other uses. These have been frozen at their current levels since 1991. The ministry wants to increase them with the biggest rises – around 10 fold – targeting the best farmland with more moderate hikes for poorer quality land. In this way, the ministry hopes developers can be deterred from building on green field sites and could instead be encouraged, for example, to build on former industrial sites or so-called “brown fields.”

Mr. Dusík described who the new law is aimed at, based on the main developers of agricultural land in recent years.

“It is either retail or industrial zones or storage facilities or transport: motorways or parking places and so on. There are also new large residential zones which extend outside the boundaries of towns and cities.”

He says the problem at the moment is that developers just find it simpler and cheaper to build on green fields. For international companies the attraction is even greater given the relative low cost of Czech land compared with prices in Germany or Austria.

Although the proposal to sharply increase land change charges was adopted by the government back in 2008, it has been sidelined in Parliament ever since. The ministry sees the upcoming session of Parliament as a last chance for lawmakers to do something to stop the concrete tide before lower house elections at the end of May and the legislative freeze that will follow.