Estonian spatial planning system consists of the plans that are of national responsibility and the plans that are the responsibility of the municipalities. The spatial plans prepared by the national authorities are the national spatial plan (and the respective thematic plan), national designated spatial plans, and county-wide spatial plans (and the respective thematic plans). The spatial plans prepared by the local authorities are comprehensive spatial plans (and the respective thematic plans), local government designated spatial plans, and detailed spatial plans (VASAB,2023).
State administrative organisation in Estonia consists of the national governmental institutions and the local governmental institutions, which operate on different levels – national, regional or local. Depending on the specification of a particular spatial plan, most of them could be involved in a planning process, as well as the relevant political bodies. In general, the planning responsibilities in Estonia are divided between national and municipal levels. The authorities that carry out planning responsibilities are the Ministry of Finance, other relevant government agencies and local authorities. Starting from 01.01.2018, the activities of the state’s regional administration (County Governments) were terminated, and the regional planning responsibilities were transferred to the Ministry of Finance. As of July 2023, the portfolio has been transferred to the Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture (VASAB,2023).
It has been decided to set up the Ministry of Regional Affairs and the Land and Spatial Planning Board as a sub-agency in 2023. Already As a first step, the ministry responsible for spatial planning in Estonia (Ministry of Finance until 2023, then Ministry of Regional Affairs) ensured the completion of country-wide spatial plans and the harmonisation of the relevant action plans in all 15 counties (VASAB,2023).
Local administrations are governing both urban and rural municipalities. Local administration operates on the local level, but there are also activities performed on the regional and national levels. The municipalities have adopted the following functions previously fulfilled by the County Governments: regional public transport, regional development, and regional health promotion. The municipalities must exercise those activities jointly through the Regional Associations of the Local Governments, the Regional Entrepreneurship and Development Centres, Public Transport Centres or other forms of cooperation. The Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities is representing the local governments on a national level (VASAB,2023).
National designated spatial plan
The purpose of a National Designated Spatial Plan (NDSP) is to erect a construction work which has a significant spatial impact and whose chosen location or whose functioning elicits significant national or international interest. A National Designated Spatial Plan is created, above all, to express interests which transcend the boundaries of individual counties in the fields of national defence and security, energy supply, the transport of gas, waste management or for the expression of such interests in public water bodies and in the exclusive economic zone. The Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture arranges the preparation of NDSPs. Where appropriate, the Government may decide that the preparation of NDSPs concerning matters of national defence and security may be arranged by the relevant government agency, mostly the Ministry of Defence or the Ministry of the Interior. Both the pre-selection of the location and the preparation of the detailed solution are carried out in cooperation with the relevant ministries and other government agencies.
Cooperation with relevant stakeholders is crucial for the preparation of the NDSP. The pre-selection of the location in the context of a National Designated Spatial Plan is carried out in cooperation with the ministries and other government agencies in whose area of government the issues addressed by the designated plan fall. Additionally, anyone whose rights the plan may affect or who shows interest towards the plan are invited to participate in the processes of the NDSP. Public displays as well as public discussions will be held on the pre-steps and results of the NDSP.
Strategic environmental assessment is mandatory when preparing a national designated spatial plan. Additionally, during the preparation of the NDSP, the plan is disseminated on the website of the authority that arranges the preparation of the plan together with its significant annexes, above all surveys, approvals, opinions, and other relevant information. For most recent NDSPs, please see the (Estonian) website: Avaleht | Riigiplaneering. For a more detailed legal background on National Designated Spatial Plans, please visit the official website of the Estonian Planning Act.
National spatial plan
The aim of the national spatial plan (NSP) is to define the spatial development principles and directions for the whole country. A national spatial plan (NSP) is prepared for the entire territory of Estonia. The aim of the NSP is to define the spatial development principles and directions for the whole country. The current NSP “Estonia 2030+” has been in force since 2012, and the action plan for its implementation was last updated in 2020. On 05.01.2023 the Government of the Republic initiated the NSP “Estonia 2050” together with the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture arranges the preparation of the NSP. The plan is prepared in cooperation with ministries and national associations of local authorities. Updates on the newly initiated NSP „Estonia 2050” can be found on the (Estonian) main page of the plan: Üleriigiline planeering 2050 | Riigiplaneering.
Marine spatial plan
With the validation of the Maritime Spatial Plan (MSP) in 2022, the long-term principles and vision of planning the total Estonian sea area were set down in a strategic document of spatial development. The planning solution was provided by an expert group of planning authorities, together with cooperation with other countries, agencies and stakeholders. A function of the MSP through a thematic spatial plan is to determine the principles and balanced development of the Estonian sea area. There are also two maritime spatial plans in effect in the Estonian sea area – the Hiiu and Pärnu maritime spatial plans. The purpose of these plans was to carry out, for the first time in Estonia, a maritime spatial planning process in accordance with the Planning Act, and to define the prospective use of the sea area and the necessary conditions. The spatial plans serve as a basis for planning the rest of Estonia’s sea area. For more detailed information, please check the official website: Maritime spatial planning | Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture .
Local spatial plans
Local level spatial plans consist of county, comprehensive and detailed plans. Out of the three, the county-wide spatial plan is the only one prepared by the Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture in cooperation with the local authorities. The official (Estonian) website for the county-wide spatial plans is: Avaleht | Maakonnaplaneering.ee. The comprehensive plan and the detailed plan are prepared by the respective municipality of the territory. Each local government must send their comprehensive spatial plan for evaluation to the Ministry where the plan’s processes, principles and suitability are assessed.
In the development of its local government system, Estonia followed the Nordic model of local governments with extensive autonomy. The share of Estonian local governments in government-sector expenditure today is 23% and continuing decentralisation is the goal of the development of the local government system. The European Charter of Local Self-Government, which was fully ratified by Estonia in 1994, determines the general democratic framework for the operations of local governments. For more information on the local spatial plans in Estonia, please visit the websites of the corresponding local governments or find the information through the official website of the Ministry of Finance: LOCAL GOVERNMENTS | Omavalitsus.fin.ee.