The rapid economic and political change in Albania during the last 20 years resulted in rapid population increase in urban centers, mainly due to immigration of rural poor searching for job opportunities and better living conditions. Approximately two thirds of the buildings in urban areas are informal developments. The majority of informal developments are not connected to infrastructure and do not receive services such as education and health.
The impact of informal developments on the environment is significant, especially in the coastal zone. Large areas of former productive agriculture land (300,000 hectares) have been converted to urban land use. Land administration capacity is not sufficient to support the maintenance of the first registrations following privatisation, never mind cope with the informal developments. For those reasons there is a massive mistrust to the system.
The Albanian government is very open about the informal development issue and did not (could not) stop it happening through prosecutions and demolitions. Government applies a “pro-growth” policy, aiming to economic development by not adopting strict regulations to control development; legalising properties (with few criteria for rejection) with the provision of registration (including building and parcel measurements) and infrastructure was selected as the preferred option. 127 new informal zones have been created to encompass 300,000 properties in informal developments.
Greece has experienced several “generations” of informal development. The detailed spatial and urban planning legislation is very complex (over 25,000 pages of legislation). This is not easily interpreted even by professionals, never mind citizens. Urban plan studies take on average 8-10 years and cost €6,000 per hectare. Towns are constrained and have limited space for further development. For that reason real estate values are extremely high for condominiums in planned areas (even within blue collar areas) while salaries are very low.
Construction permitting in non planned areas requires involvement of more than 20 land related agencies and may last several years and in many cases requires court decisions. The statutory environmental constraints are not clearly defined and not delineated on maps. It is estimated that there are over 1 million informal developments across Greece. Greek government applies strong laws and penalties on environmental protection.
This has significantly reduced the environmental impact of informal development, especially in coastal zones, archaeological sites and forests. Planning criteria usually do not include market interests though. The planning process runs at a different speed to market needs and cannot accommodate short term needs when there are large demands. This policy restricts any serious investments and impacts the economic development of the country.
Experience shows that neither legalization nor strict penalties nor demolition as such have ever managed to stop illegal development. There is a need for understanding that an integrated approach in land management is required; the specific goal of this study is to define options for solutions to the existing situation of unplanned urban development in the region, but also for adopting realistic and appropriate land policies in order to eliminate the phenomenon in the future.