Turkey's main regulation with respect to planning procedures for protected areas, the Regulation on Plan Preparation for Protected Areas ("Regulation") was amended with another regulation published in the Official Gazette of December 6, 2016, and entered into force as of its date of publication. The Regulation sets out the criteria for the preparation and approval of zoning plans for protected areas, such as national parks, natural parks, and natural protected areas. These amendments have sparked controversy, with many environmental associations alleging that the amendments will lead to a lower degree of protection and preservation of the protected areas.  According to media reports, an Aegean environmental platform has already filed a stay of execution suit with regard to the amendment.  Below is our review of the amendments made to the Regulation:

(i) Previously, both the declaration of an area as a natural protected area or a status change would halt the execution of plans of all scales within the relevant area. With the amendment, a status change in an area would not suffice to stop the execution of all plans. According to the amendment, when the status of an area changes, the plan which was created based on the previous status of the area will continue to be executed within the relevant area.

(ii) Previously, the Regulation stated that, when the status of an area changed or when an area was declared as a protected area, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning would re-evaluate its environmental plan decisions and minutes, if any, by taking into account (1) the protection status of the area, (2) the reasoned report with regard to the natural protected area or biodiversity report, and (3) the interaction and transition fields of the protected areas. The amendments repeal the obligation of the Ministry to take into account "the reasoned report with regard to the natural protected area or biodiversity report."

(iii) One of the most significant amendments to the Regulation concerns the period of application of execution of current zoning plans for areas whose statuses have changed. If the following changes took place in the status of an area, the Regulation would now allow current zoning plans to be applicable until new plans are created: (1) First degree natural protected areas, which are declared to be qualified natural protected areas and sustained protection and controlled usage areas, (2) second or third degree natural protected areas, which are declared to be sustained protection and controlled usage areas. Current zoning plans must be in line with the Regulation on Procedure and Principles with regard to the Identification, Registration and Approval of Protected Areas and principle resolutions determined for the new statutes.

(iv) Another significant change brought about by the amendment is with regard to the preparation period for new zoning plans that are applicable to areas whose zoning statuses have changed. Previously, relevant administrative authorities were required to prepare protective master and implementation plans within 18 months (in accordance with the new status of the area). During this period, provisional protection principles would continue to apply to the area in question. If this plan was not delivered due to mandatory reasons, the period could be prolonged up to 3 years. However, the provisional protection principles could not be enforced during the extension period. The amendments provide an initial period of 3 years for the preparation of the new plan (in accordance with the new status of the area) and allow for an indefinite extension period. Contrary to the previous rule, provisional protection principles would be enforced during the extension period, if any.

(v) Under the Regulation, protective zoning plans must be prepared by taking the habitation of the relevant area into consideration. These plans will either include the interaction and transition fields of the protected areas in the entirety of the natural protected area or in stages deemed appropriate by the General Directorate. The amendment brings an exception to this rule. Under the amended Regulation, constructions and facilities to be built in coastal areas are no longer required to prepare a zoning implementation plan or fulfill the staging requirement for the protected area.

This article was first published in Legal Insights Quarterly by ELIG, Attorneys-at-Law in March 2017. A link to the full Legal Insight Quarterly may be found here.

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