Plans & Permits
At Our Toscana, we will listen very carefully to your needs and desires. We provide a full comprehensive “one-stop” planning package that will eliminate the infamous red tape that frustrates so many overseas buyers. You will have one single and accountable interface who manages a specialized team of architects, geometras, engineers and geologists to get the job done on time and within budget.
The Planning System in Tuscany for Dummies!
Recently somebody asked me to write an article about the planning system in Tuscany that a normal human being might understand! This is indeed a challenging request as it’s a little bit like unravelling strands of spaghetti one-by-one! The planning procedures are at the very heart of Italian bureaucracy so please bear with me while we try to make sense of it all. To start with, we can divide planning procedures into two broad groups known as “planning consent” and a “planning declaration”:
This procedure is normally dedicated to significant property modifications greater than 20% in volume or new builds requiring you to hire an architect, engineer or geometra who does a planning application to obtain planning consent from the Commune (permesso di costruire). This usually takes at least 60 days from the moment the application is made and is generally scrutinized by a planning review board composed of 4 professionals external to the municipality in question when there are restrictions involved. Legally this procedure is a more watertight solution as the document is issued by an official entity who take ownership of its contents.
The second procedure can be referred to as a planning declaration (S.C.I.A – Segnalazione Certificata di Inizio Attività) and is a simplified version used for more modest or straight forward changes that fall within the framework of the regulations. Here the architect, engineer or geometra (professionista abilitato) who is familiar with the building regulations of the Commune takes the ownership and declares that the proposals are compliant and do not breach such local regulations as well as Provincial and Regional laws. This procedure requires no further formalities from the Commune and the works can start immediately after the complete submittal of drawings and reports. The planning department usually has 30 days to check for completeness and compliance so this may become a problem if works are already underway. Legally speaking, this procedure is based on the professionalism of the person representing you. If he or she starts to make loose interpretations of the regulations, you may well end up with some irregularities and can be formally contested at a later date.
So far, all of this sounds reasonably straight forward so where’s the catch? The above procedures are sort of umbrella procedures that happen at the beginning or end of a series of other planning formalities.
For both types of submittals we have a package presented to the commune that includes a set of plans composed of a general arrangement of the site layout, floor plans, elevations and cross sections for the current state and all proposed modifications. There are also external photographs and extracts from the area development plan and zoning maps. All of this is accompanied by a comprehensive application form and a technical report describing the proposed changes. Given that the Commune applies a tax for modifications, a dedicated document is prepared calculating such taxes based on building volume and construction costs. We also have to show the future adaptability for disabled occupants without undertaking structural modifications and that each room has suitable natural illumination and ventilation ratios.
In addition to the above submittal, we have a series of supplementary or “satellite” design, calculations and reports that may be necessary and depend on the restrictions associated with the property. As a rule of thumb, these secondary submittals need to be presented before works commence. Here are three such examples:
Over 60% of Tuscany is subject to a hydro-geological restriction. Tuscany is full of hills, mountains and forests that have serious slope stability problems when subject to heavy or prolonged rains. Unfortunately many properties sought after by the overseas buyer enjoy wonderful views and are often located on such hillsides. The main idea behind this report is to show that you are controlling water runoff and not creating large paved that cannot absorb such rains which tends to cause unwanted erosion or landslides. The same concept applies to septic tank effluent and road drainage. This report is generally prepared by a geologist and requires about 20 to 45 days for approval.
Structural and Seismic design and analysis
Nearly all of Tuscany has been subject to some sort of earthquakes in the past. In fact each Commune in Tuscany has a seismic risk ranging from 1 to 4 where 1 is high and 4 is low. The idea of such calculations and design is to demonstrate that you are undertaking the necessary measures that will not weaken the building should an earthquake occur. This means for example, that new openings in load bearing walls may require embedded frames to restore rigidness and resist shaking horizontal loads that are created by earthquakes. The reports are submitted to the office of civil engineering (Genio Civile) and require 60 days for review and authorization in zones 1 and 2. Zones 3 and 4 are lower risk and not subject to authorization and works can commence immediately after the submittal. For barn conversions or significant revamps, the earthquake proofing of a building can become a very costly exercise worth considering carefully during your budgeting phase of the project.
Without a doubt, Tuscany is a beautiful region and you often hear about the strict planning laws that have allowed such beauty to flourish. Part of this is thanks to the environmental restriction that applies to areas of natural beauty. The proposed modifications are reviewed initially at the local planning department (environmental review board) for compatibility with the planning recommendations and applied codes. Once approved, the package is then forwarded to the Board of Cultural Heritage (Soprintendenza) responsible for the area in question. This entity has about 30 to 45 days to approve.
In addition to these three examples, there are also a series of other formalities that have a similar procedure such as listed buildings of historical or architectural importance, areas prone to flooding, proximity to roads or overhead power lines etc. Finally we need to do heat dispersion calculations to show that the heat loss respects determined limits for the climatic zone in question.
Area Development Plan and Regulations
The planning application is based on the area development plan or planning policy (regolamento urbanistico) that establishes what you are allowed to do for a specific area or property within the Commune. You might learn that you can do a once-off 160m3 extension in a rural area, build a garage of 20m2 or a pergola 20% of the main roof size. In addition to this, we have the building regulations (regolamento edilizio) that gives indications or parameters for a dwelling such as having a kitchen area of at least 9m2, minimum room height of 2.2m in upper floors or net dwelling floor area no less than 50m2.
The types of works that you undertake will normally fall under one of the following five categories as follows:
- Ordinary maintenance (manutenzione ordinaria) or replacing like with like and therefore incurring little or no visible changes. A good example of this would be the application of a water proof membrane in the roof and a redoing the render.
- Extraordinary maintenance (manutenzione straordinaria) usually for changes in the internal distribution and facades of a building and will entail some minor structural modifications like a new window or door opening and revamping the electrics and plumbing.
- Renovation (ristrutturazione edilizia) is designated to a series of more important works that usually involves extensive structural and greater than 20% volume increases.
- Restoration & Preservation (restauro e risanamento conservativo) is associated with buildings of historical or architectural importance where the objective is to maintain or enhance the architectural or historical features.
- Rebuild (ristrutturazione urbanistica or sostituzione edilizia) where we demolish, perhaps move and rebuild a house.
For all procedures, works must be completed within 3 years of the planning declaration/consent although this can sometimes be extended.
Given the intricate interaction of the above procedures, a slight change in one area often incurs a devastating domino effect on others causing frustrating delays and additional planning costs. So the next time, your Geometra tells you that you’ll need an extra month to get that permit in place, try to appreciate the complex minefield that he or she struggles with!