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TRANSPORT MINISTRY SEEKS CHANGES IN EFFORT TO REGULATE ROMA SETTLEMENTS

Proposal cracks down on informal dwellings

ONE OF the aims of the new Construction Act, introduced by the Transport Ministry in mid July, is to rid Slovakia of all illegally constructed buildings. In addition to stricter rules to make removal of illegal buildings easier, the ministry said it will put an end to the practice of retroactive legalisation of illegal buildings, adding that the owners of such structures will have only one year to obtain the necessary permits. Yet, this proposal has prompted criticism from several corners, with some explaining that applying the law to illegal dwellings in Roma settlements will not be easy.

ONE OF the aims of the new Construction Act, introduced by the Transport Ministry in mid July, is to rid Slovakia of all illegally constructed buildings. In addition to stricter rules to make removal of illegal buildings easier, the ministry said it will put an end to the practice of retroactive legalisation of illegal buildings, adding that the owners of such structures will have only one year to obtain the necessary permits. Yet, this proposal has prompted criticism from several corners, with some explaining that applying the law to illegal dwellings in Roma settlements will not be easy.

The ministry’s latest steps indicate that it will modify the rules for illegally built Roma houses.

The specifics related to Roma homes was the main issue discussed by State Secretary of the Transport Ministry František Palko, Government Proxy for Roma Communities Peter Pollák, and the representatives of municipalities and Roma on August 14.

“We agreed on gradual steps which will mean securing the accord with practice and the new law,” Palko said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

One of the ministry’s first steps involves so-called passportisation, which means that the state will identify non-permitted buildings and the owners of the land on which they stand. The state will then either buy or exchange the land, and sell it to Roma, the Sme daily wrote. In this phase the state is to cooperate with the Slovak Land Fund, the public-service broadcaster Slovak Radio (SRo) reported.

Pollák believes that exchanging land would not be problematic, as the land on which Roma settlements are often built is rarely sought after on the open market, and in most cases is arable farm land, he said, as reported by TASR.

Under the plan, the plots will then be incorporated into municipal land plans. The ministry plans to offer a subsidy for preparing the necessary regional planning documentation, according to TASR.

Palko also said that it would be impossible to legalise all non-permitted buildings as they do not meet the necessary criteria. In such cases, they will look for solutions in cooperation with other ministries. Negotiations over the European Union’s budget for 2014-20 indicate it will likely be possible to use money from structural funds to pay for social housing for marginalised groups, Palko said. This means that Roma could be moved to other houses where they will be allowed to live, Sme wrote.

The Transport Ministry could not say how many Roma settlements the new rules will affect, though estimates surpass 10,000. The ministry has welcomed the preparation of a new so-called “Atlas of Roma Communities”, a sociographic map of Roma communities in Slovakia, which could be applied to solving the problem of illegal buildings, SITA reported.

The ministry will also establish a special working group composed of representatives of the Interior and Transport ministries and respective state bodies, which will deal with the issue of illegal Roma buildings.

Stiff penalties for illegal buildings

One of the main proposed changes, which seeks to alter a 40-year-old law, concerns the definition of what an impermissible building actually is and the rules on how to deal with such a structure. If the local construction office learns about an illegal building under construction, it will have to order the builders to stop work, and order suppliers to halt deliveries of water and energy to the construction site. Finally, it will order the demolition of the building at the expense of the contractor.

Should the builder refuse to follow instructions, the municipality will be allowed to put the land in question up for auction, according to the Transport Ministry proposal. The winner of the auction would then be required to demolish the building but would have the opportunity to construct something new, Palko told the Pravda daily.

Those building without permits would face higher fines and imprisonment should they fail to remove illegal structures. If builders are self-employed, they could lose their licences, according to the proposal.

Though the new law will not specifically include an option for the retroactive legalisation of illegal buildings, the ministry said it would allow the owners of unlicensed buildings a one year grace period to obtain the relevant permits, the SITA newswire wrote.

If passed by parliament, the new rules will come into effect in July of next year.

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