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'Covid Act' residential developments in Bemowo, Poland


Description:

At the end of February 2020, Poland was already facing a threat of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic. The authorities decided to introduce a temporary law that was enabling the management of health crises. Above all, they wanted to be prepared for the necessity of immediate and express construction of facilities (e.g. hospitals) in which people would be saved, without a long administrative procedure [1]. On March 8, the ‘Act of March 2, 2020 on specific solutions related to the prevention and combating COVID and other infectious diseases and crises they caused’ (in brief ‘COVID Act’) took effect nationwide.

The 12th section of this act reads as follows: for the design, construction, reconstruction, renovation, maintenance and demolition of buildings and facilities, including changes in their use, the following regulations don’t apply: construction regulations, Spatial Planning and Development Act, and an Act on the Protection and Guardianship of Monuments [2]. So, the constructor has only to quickly inform the authorities. 

Unfortunately, the legislator didn’t provide for any criteria and control measures, inter alia, to determine the actual use of effects of construction works [3]. Therefore, this law was used by anyone who declared their will to counteract COVID-19, which did not necessarily have to be in line with real intentions. Many developers and owners of historic buildings used this situation to get rich. They wanted to bypass the time-consuming administrative procedures preceding the commencement of construction or reconstruction, and even use the legal loophole to implement investments in places where they would normally be prohibited, often at the cost of the environment and society. The consequence of the imperfect ‘COVID Lex’ was environmental conflicts all over Poland. 

It is best to illustrate the problems arising from the new legislation with the Bemowo case. It concerns the new construction in the Janów village adjacent to Warsaw – located in the Stare Babice Commune in the Warsaw West County. It is about a housing estate called ‘Healthy and Ecological Green - Masovian Non-public Complex for Combating COVID-19 and eliminating the socio-economic effects caused by COVID-19‘ [4]. The investor argued that this development in less than 12 months will be intended for people under quarantine, and in the next period they will be offered for living to people who have lost their houses or apartments as a result of the pandemic [5].

On September 3, 2020 the developer submitted a notification to the West Warsaw County that started the construction of a housing estate on a plot no. 180 [6]. This area is located in the Bemowo Forest [7] between two fragments of the ‘Elk Swamps’ Nature Reserve (in its buffer zone), in the buffer zone of the Kampinos National Park, and within the borders of the Warsaw Protected Landscape Area, where there is a prohibition on killing wild animals, destroying their burrows, lairs, or other shelters and breeding places [8]. On September 7, the social initiative of nature admirers ‘NO for the development of the Bemowo Forest’ alerted on its own Facebook page about the destruction of a beaver dam located in the proposed housing estate [9]. Authorities at all levels quickly became interested in this matter [10] [11].

On September 14, 2020 the Minister of Environment and Climate announced that the investments submitted under the ‘COVID Act’ aren’t exempt from the limitations and requirements of the Nature Conservation Act, the Water Law and the Act on the Protection of Agricultural and Forest Land [12]. Therefore, the State Building Supervision Inspection suspended construction works. On October 2020, the local community – and more specifically the Babice for Nature Association – managed to fight for participation in the official proceedings against the developer, despite the fact that it hadn’t been approved before [13]. In turn, on October 21, the proceedings of the Regional Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw were initiated in the matter of causing significant damage to the plant and animal world in connection with the commencement and conduct of construction works [14].

The inhabitants of the area became extremely active in saving the Bemowo Forest. On September 12, 2020 they organized a protest entitled 'Elks yes! Developers no!' [15]. Over 200 people pointed out that plot no. 180 is a migration route for elks from the ‘Elk Swamps’ Nature Reserve to the Kampinos National Park. Moreover, the strength of social opposition was expressed in informing the media, sending letters to many offices, neighborhood monitoring, educational walks, forest cleaning campaigns. Nature lovers have managed to discover that the developer, despite the order to suspend construction, repeatedly destroyed the dam recreated by beavers, brought electricity to the plot and, in March 2021, cut trees in an area of 2-3 hectares during the bird breeding season. However, the construction didn’t start, especially when a heavy equipment entry ban sign was placed.

The struggle with developer has been going on since 2004, when bought a 20-hectare plot from the Military Property Agency (ex-radar army base) [16]. Since then, attempts have been made to develop the area for the purpose of housing development. However, not much could have happened, because the 2011 Local Development Plan [17] allowed only afforestation and recreation in this place. The situation changed in 2018 when the 'Developer Act' entered into force in Poland. It allows the construction of housing investments by circumventing the strict guidelines of local plans. The only fuse is that the construction must be approved by the commune council. In this case, however, it was not issued by the decision of January 9, 2020 [18].

Another example of an inadequate use of the ‘COVID Act’ is the construction of a housing estate of 12-two-story houses (de jure one of them will be a rehabilitation center, de facto: all summer houses), which is being built near the beach on Puck Bay, in Mechelinki village, in the vicinity of a nature reserve. In this case, the administration is afraid to make a hasty decision to suspend the construction due to possible high compensation [19].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:'Covid Act' residential developments in Bemowo, Poland
Country:Poland
State or province:Warsaw
Location of conflict:Bemowo
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The overall scale of activities of developers using the ‘COVID Act’ was known on May 26, 2021. The media reported that the construction supervision throughout the country took a closer look at as many as 430 such investments. More than half of them turned out to be questionable, and prosecution proceedings were initiated against 60 projects [21].

As for 'Bemowo Forest' investment, an estate consisting of 15 detached houses is to be built on an area of 1.74 hectares. Each of them will occupy a field of about 140 square meters, and have its own well and septic tank.

Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:07/09/2020
Company names or state enterprises:SAWA APARTMENTS SP. Z.O.O. from Poland - One of the 'COVID Act' developer / plot no. 180 owner in the Bemowo Forest
MS KING SP. Z.O.O. (MS King) from Poland - one of the 'COVID Act' developer / investor in the Mechelinki village
RSJ HOUSE SP. Z.O.O. (RSJ HOUSE) from Poland - one of the 'COVID Act' developer / investor in the Wieliszewo village
Relevant government actors:Related to the 'Bemowo Forest' case:
- Ministerstwo Klimatu i Środowiska (Ministry of Climate and Environment)
- Generalna Dyrekcja Ochrony Środowiska (General Directorate for Environmental Protection)
- Regionalna Dyrekcja Ochrony Środowiska w Warszawie (Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in Warsaw)
- Starostwo Powiatowe Warszawskie Zachodnie w Ożarowie Maozwieckim (West Warsaw Office County in Ożarów Mazowiecki)
- Urząd Gminy w Starych Babicach (Commune Office in Stare Babice)
- Dyrekcja Kampinoskiego Parku Narodowego (Directorate of the Kampinos National Park)
- Główny Inspektorat Nadzoru Budowlanego (Chief Inspectorate of Construction Supervision)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Related to the 'Bemowo Forest' case:
- 'NIE dla zabudowy Lasu Bemowskiego' [NO for the development of the Bemowo Forest’] - social initiative
https://www.facebook.com/NIE-dla-zabudowy-Lasu-Bemowskiego-243680886137894/
- Stowarzyszenie Babice dla Przyrody [Babice for Nature Association]
https://www.facebook.com/Stowarzyszenie-Babice-dla-Przyrody-110348133875327/
- Stowarzyszenie Nasz Bóbr [Our Beaver Association] https://www.naszbobr.pl
- Stowarzyszenie Boernerowo [Boernerowo Association]
https://boernerowo.org/
- Kongres Ruchów Miejskich (Congress of Urban Movements) - agreement of female activists and activists associated in several urban movements in Poland
https://www.kongresruchowmiejskich.pl/

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
neighborhood monitoring, educational walks, forest cleaning actions

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsloss of recreational places

Outcome

Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Withdrawal of company/investment
Project temporarily suspended
Development of alternatives:In the case of a private plot no. 180 in the Bemowo Forest, local residents and activists want to leave this area in its natural form for recreational purposes. The Commune Office in Stare Babice is ready to buy a plot of land for PLN 20 per m2.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Some 'COVID Act' residential investments have already been suspended. On May 20, 2021, the Provincial Administrative Court in Warsaw dismissed the developer's complaint against the decision of the Mazovian Building Supervision Inspector of November 3, 2020, suspending the construction of a housing estate in the Bemowo Forest. Activists announced success, covid housing estates will not be built [22].

However, the full success of environmental justice cannot be announced. Many estates all over Poland have already been established, as in the village of Mechelinki. It will be difficult to demolish them.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[2] Ustawa z dnia 2 marca 2020 r. o szczególnych rozwiązaniach związanych z zapobieganiem, przeciwdziałaniem i zwalczaniem COVID-19, innych chorób zakaźnych oraz wywołanych nimi sytuacji kryzysowych (Act of March 2, 2020 on specific solutions related to the prevention and combating COVID and other infectious diseases and crises they caused)
https://isap.sejm.gov.pl/isap.nsf/download.xsp/WDU20200000374/T/D20200374L.pdf

[17] Uchwała Nr VIII/55/11 z dnia 30 czerwca 2011 r. w sprawie uchwalenia miejscowego planu zagospodarowania przestrzennego Gminy Stare Babice (Resolution No. VIII / 55/11 of 30 June 2011 on the adoption of the Local Spatial Development Plan of the Stare Babice Commune)
http://archiwum.starebabice.bip.net.pl/103773.html

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[7[ Kwiatkowska-Malina J., Popis A. (2011). Zabudowa cennych obszarów przyrodniczych w strukturze miasta w wyniku braku miejscowych planów zagospodarowania przestrzennego (Urbanization of valuable natural areas within the city structure as a result of lack of local spatial development plans). Studia KPZK.
https://journals.pan.pl/Content/96682/mainfile.pdf

[4] Polskie Radio. Radio dla Ciebie (2020, September 16). Osiedle przy Łosiowych Błotach. Deweloper odpiera zarzuty (The estate at 'Elk Swamps'. The developer refutes the allegations)
https://www.rdc.pl/informacje/budowa-osiedla-przy-losiowych-blotach-deweloper-przez-nasze-dzialania-nie-ucierpial-zaden-bobr/

[3] Dyga M. (2020, September 25). Rzeczpospolita. COVID pozwala budować wszystko, gdzie się da (COVID allows you to build anything you can)
https://www.rp.pl/Nieruchomosci/309259932-Martyna-Dyga-COVID-pozwala-budowac-wszystko-gdzie-sie-da.html

[5] Sulowski K. (2021, March 30). Wyborcza.pl Warszawa. Kolejny krok do powstrzymania "covidowego osiedla" w Lesie Bemowskim (Next step to stop the "covid estate" in the Bemowo Forest)
https://warszawa.wyborcza.pl/warszawa/7,54420,26931883,deweloper-musi-rozebrac-trafostacje-w-lesie-bemowskim-chcial.html

[1] Woś M. (2020, October 9). PRAWO.PL. Nadzór budowlany bezsilny wobec COVID-owych inwestycji (Construction supervision powerless against COVID-related investments)
https://www.prawo.pl/samorzad/specustawa-covid-owa-naciagane-budowy-nie-do-zatrzymania,503528.html

[6] Money.pl (2020, September 10). Osiedle w lesie. Jest zawiadomienie do nadzoru budowlanego i policji (A housing estate in the woods. There is a notice for construction supervision and police)
https://www.money.pl/gospodarka/osiedle-w-lesie-jest-zawiadomienie-do-nadzoru-budowlanego-i-policji-6552647639178176a.html

[10] TVN Warszawa (2020, September 10). W otulinie rezerwatu planują zbudować osiedle dla osób w kwarantannie. RDOŚ mówi o umyślnym naruszeniu zakazów (They plan to build a housing estate for people in quarantine in the buffer zone of the reserve. RDOŚ speaks of a deliberate violation of the prohibitions)
https://tvn24.pl/tvnwarszawa/najnowsze/warszawa-las-bemowski-deweloper-chce-zbudowac-osiedle-na-podstawie-ustawy-antycovidowej-jest-zawiadomienie-do-prokuratury-4688277

[14] Kromer O. (2020, September 15). Wyborcza.pl Warszawa. Prokuratura wstrzymuje budowę osiedla koło rezerwatu w Lesie Bemowskim. Deweloperowi grozi nawet 8 lat więzienia (The prosecutor's office suspends the construction of an estate near the reserve in the Bemowo Forest The developer is facing up to 8 years in prison)
https://warszawa.wyborcza.pl/warszawa/7,54420,26302088,losiowe-blota-prokuratura-wstrzymuje-budowe-osiedla-w-otulinie.html

[15] Makarewicz N. , Piekarski M. (2020, September 12). Radio RMF24.PL. Protest w Lesie Bemowskim. Deweloper chce zbudować osiedle w otulinie rezerwatu (Protest in the Bemowo Forest. The developer wants to build a housing estate in the buffer zone of the reserve)
Nicole Makarewicz,Mariusz Piekarski

[11] Urząd Gminy Stare Babice (2020, September 18). Oświadczenie Urzędu Gminy Stare Babice w sprawie wydanego komunikatu inwestora – działka 180 (Statement of the Stare Babice Commune Office on the investor's announcement - plot 180)
https://stare-babice.pl/oswiadczenie-urzedu-gminy-stare-babice-w-sprawie-wydanego-komunikatu-inwestora-dzialka-180/

[16] Byszewski G., Kozubal M. (2008, February 9). Rzeczpospolita Warszawa. Oskarżeni za przekręt przy Łosiowych Błotach (Accused of the scam at 'Elk Swamps')
https://www.rp.pl/artykul/94873-Oskarzeni-za-przekret-przy-Losiowych-Blotach.html?fbclid=IwAR2tYB2nO3S3QN9Sxm20KZSlt2E6aBEzrsKhQy8_Kgww_AP_lx1OabSM6xY

[20] Fryc K. (2020, September 24). Wyborcza.pl Trójmiasto. Covidowe osiedle przy plaży w Mechelinkach. Wójt: To samowola budowlana (Covid estate by the beach in Mechelinki. Mayor: This is unauthorized construction)
https://trojmiasto.wyborcza.pl/trojmiasto/7,35612,26331325,covidowe-osiedle-przy-plazy-w-mechelinkach-wojt-to-samowola.html

[19] TVN24 Pomorze (2021, October 6). Nad morzem powstają domy "przeciwdziałające COVID-19". Budowę sprawdza prokuratura (Houses "counteracting COVID-19" are being built at the seaside. The construction is checked by the prosecutor's office)
https://tvn24.pl/pomorze/koronawirus-w-polsce-mechelinki-nad-morzem-powstaja-domki-przeciwdzialajace-covid-19-budowe-sprawdza-prokurature-4712607

[18] Wojtkowicz W. (2020, September 10). UrbNews. Deweloper chce budować osiedle na podstawie pandemicznej “tarczy” (The developer wants to build a housing estate on the basis of a pandemic "shield")
http://urbnews.pl/deweloper-osiedle-na-podstawie-pandemicznej-tarczy/

[12] TVP.INFO (2020, September 14). Osiedle w środku warszawskiego lasu. Minister zawiadamia prokuraturę (A housing estate in the middle of the Warsaw forest. The minister notifies the prosecutor's office)
https://www.tvp.info/49857502/osiedle-jednorodzinne-las-bemowski-warszawa-inwestor-wykorzystuje-ustawe-osiedle-w-srodku-warszawskiego-lasu-minister-srodowiska-zawiadamia-pk-wieszwiecej?fbclid=IwAR3hGiJvv77yLVRtl3AVI2f6YV2As2UPIll83Ku0BTke3HreG2ddTNj9uAM

[21] Michalik B. (2021, May 27). BusinessInsider. "Covidowe" osiedle nad Zatoką Pucką. Sprawę bada nadzór budowlany ('Covid' housing estate on Puck Bay. The case is being investigated by the construction supervision)
https://businessinsider.com.pl/covidowe-osiedle-nad-zatoka-pucka-sprawe-bada-nadzor-budowlany/z8s04qe

[8] Wojtczuk M. (2020, September 10). Wyborcza. pl Warszawa. Tamę bobrów zniszczył samowolnie deweloper budujący "na koronawirusa" osiedle w środku lasu. Zawiadomiono policję (The beaver dam was intentionally destroyed by a developer building a housing estate 'on the coronavirus' in the middle of the forest. The police were notified)
https://warszawa.wyborcza.pl/warszawa/7,54420,26287565,deweloper-budujacy-w-srodku-lasu-osiedle-na-koronawirusa-zniszczyl.html

[22] Glinianowska A. (2021, June 9). Warszawa.Nasze Miasto. Inwestor chciał wybudować covidowe osiedle przy Łosiowych Błotach. Jest decyzja sądu (The investor wanted to build a covid estate at the Elk Swamps. There is a court decision)
https://warszawa.naszemiasto.pl/warszawa-inwestor-chcial-wybudowac-covidowe-osiedle-przy/ar/c15-8312710

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[9] 'NO for the development of the Bemowo Forest' Facebook account. (2020, September 7).
https://www.facebook.com/NIE-dla-zabudowy-Lasu-Bemowskiego-243680886137894/photos/pcb.964574787381830/964574067381902/

[13] 'Babice for Nature Association' Facebook account. (2020, October 15).
https://www.facebook.com/Stowarzyszenie-Babice-dla-Przyrody-110348133875327/photos/pcb.185788902997916/185788879664585/

Meta information

Contributor:Maciej Kałaska, [email protected] Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies, University of Warsaw
Last update12/06/2021

Images

 

'Elk Swamps" Nature Reserve in Stare Babice Commune, Poland

Residential investment area is adjacent to the Inaccessible wetlands and natural peat lakes which are extremely attractive places for animals. Author: globalquiz.org, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Document from the West Warsaw County Office to the Stare Babice Commune Office

This document informs about the receipt of the notification about the commencement of the investment in the plot no. 180 Source: https://stare-babice.pl/dzialka-180-w-janowie-kolejna-proba-zabudowy/?print=print

Plot for 'COVID Act' housing estate in the Bemowo Forest

Author: 'NO for the development of the Bemowo Forest' Facebook account

Location of the plot for 'COVID Act' housing estate in the Bemowo Forest

This area is located in Stare Babice Commune (near the Warsaw borders: Bemoqo quarter) between two fragments of the ‘Elk Swamps’ Nature Reserve (in its buffer zone), in the buffer zone of the Kampinos National Park, and within the borders of the Warsaw Protected Landscape Area Author: Wyborcza.pl Warszawa

Protest against development project in the Bemowo Forest

Protest 'Elks yes! Developers no!' was organised on September 12, 2020 as a result of the social initiative of nature admirers ‘NO for the development of the Bemowo Forest’ Author: 'NO for the development of the Bemowo Forest' Facebook account

Klemp in the Bemowo Forest

'Elk Swamps' Nature Reserve includes a refuge for elks, which often comes here from Kampinos National Park. Author: Anna Krzak, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons