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Land-use policies

The current land use policy in Chile creates a distinct barrier between rural and urban planning based on establishing an imaginary boundary - the urban limit - that does not correspond to functional realities (see Box below). This creates a major impediment to co-ordinated planning especially where rural and urban territories intersect. In this context, there are several problem relate to overload of roads regional and congestion in transitions areas1 (rural-urban). While this barrier may be manageable under the current definition of rural which minimizes rural territory it would be far more significant under a definition of rural that expands rural territory. What is missing is a regional overview that can provide a framework both for more specific land use plans in urban and rural areas, as well as a structure for integrated transport planning and coordination of economic development plans where they impact land use, and for environmental management plans.

The current PRI (Inter-commune Plan) has advanced in this domain with the establishment of 18 PRI in force (8 are being updated and 20 are being formulated). Nevertheless a deeper integration is needed that explores synergies and better integrates the portfolio of policies shaped by the PNDU (National Urban Development Policy), the National Regional Development (PNDRe), the (Biodiversity Preservation National Policy (PNCB) the National Climate Change Action Plan2 and the forthcoming PNDR (National Rural Development Policy) at the local level.

The recent launch of Regional Plans for Land-Use Planning (Planes Regionales de Ordenamiento Territorial, PROT3) aims at this goal and offers another possibility for improving coherence between economic and spatial planning at the regional level. Its main goal is to give a spatial dimension to implementing Regional Development Strategies (Estrategia Regional de Desarrollo, ERD) objectives. The PROT also intends to tackle issues related to urban development, and management of watersheds and coastal areas, whose implementation requires cross-sectoral co-operation and municipal input. These are developed by the regional governments in consultation with the region’s municipalities and ought to cascade down from the ERD.

Despite these efforts, there is a potential for greater coherence at the regional and local levels, since the links between land-use tools (e.g. PROT and Regulating Plans) and management or development instruments (e.g. ERD and PLADECO) are still weak (see Figure 2.13). One challenge moving forward will be to ensure that sector initiatives and statutory plans (e.g. Regulating Plans), and management/development plans (e.g. PLADECO or ERD) are linked to a broader urban and rural strategies. The revised definition proposed in Chapter 1 defining areas of urban and rural linkages can help in this task.

Figure 2.13. Current urban programming hierarchy in Chile

Note: PROT are designed to support the realisation of ERD and cascade down from them. Because PROT and PRDU are both being used at present, this is not yet the case in all regions, though PRDU are being phased out and gradually replaced by PROT. Regulating plans (PR) are intended to devolve from the PLADECO, but their relationship has not yet been fully elaborated, given that many regulating plans were in place before the introduction of the PLADECO. This issue will be resolved as new PRs are elaborated. The ERD should help to guide municipalities in the formulation of their PLADECO, and PROT inform the design of the PRs.

Source: OECD (2013), OECD Urban Policy Reviews: Chile 2013, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Under the present structure the established zones tend to be static and become obsolete more quickly than PRs are renewed or updated. Currently the approval process for a PRC averages seven years, often rendering the plans obsolete upon approval. Another shortcoming comes from the fact that urban boundaries allow for development outside the established urban perimeter without adequately ensuring services to those developments. Policy instruments that could address these challenges, such as flexible or mixed-use zoning and infill development, are already provided for in Chilean national regulations, but they could be more effective, more widely available (OECD, 2013) and better adapt to the realities of mixed (urban-rural areas).

Land use polices can also better address the vulnerability of rural areas to natural hazard risks. Currently national planning norms do not prohibit construction in natural hazard risk zones, but allow each municipality to decide the allowable land uses and conditions for development in those zones. This results in a fragmented approach to natural hazard risk planning. The designation of natural hazard risk zones should be determined at the national level with an adequate implementation mechanism from the local level, so that municipalities can apply norms set by the government,4 particularly in light of the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami.

Box 2.15. Land-use regulation

The Regional Plan for Urban Development (Plan Regional de Desarrollo Urbano/PRDU) is a non-binding, (i.e. not a statutory), tool that offers a framework for urban co-ordination across individual regions. Within their regions, PRDU aim to co-ordinate urban development, setting out the roles of urban centres, their spatial and functional relationships, connectivity and growth targets. PRDU should include an explanatory memorandum including the conceptual and technical aspects that justify the plan, its objectives, rationale and methodology; a regional diagnostic taking into consideration regional trends, strengths and weaknesses, degrees of occupancy of the territory, interactions between the region’s different areas and population centres; and the main planned investment projects of the public and private sector. It should also include guidelines for the allocation of national roads, highways, railways, airports, seaports and international borders; definition of settlements that may require priority treatment; the equipping and requirements of health infrastructure, energy and telecommunications.

The MINVU SEREMI’s are responsible for developing the PRDU, which is then approved by the Regional Council and promulgated by the Intendente. In principle, the contents of the PRDU should be integrated into the various municipal Regulating Plans (see below); although in practice there are problems in co-ordinating their integration, with delays in their implementation and in their update. Nonetheless the Regulation Plans should always be aligned with the PRDU.

  • • The Inter-municipal and Metropolitan Regulating Plans (PRI/PRM). Inter-municipal Regulating Plans (Plan Regulador Intercomunal/PRI) govern the spatial development of those urban and rural areas that are integrated into an urban unit (i.e. when more than one municipal entity comprises the urban unit). When this unit surpasses a population threshold of 500 000 inhabitants, it is considered a metropolitan area for planning purposes and its spatial development is subsequently regulated by a Metropolitan Regulating Plan (Plan Regulador Metropolitano/PRM), a version of a PRI. These spatial plans define the territorial boundaries subject to the planning instrument. Within an urban area, PRI/PRM define the urban boundaries in order to differentiate the urban area from the rest of the area (which is denominated rural); define the classification and characteristics of urban roads; designate land for expressways (vias expresas), trunk roads (vias troncales), and inter-municipal parks; set rules or standards governing those buildings and structures associated with infrastructure that has intermunicipal impact; set rules or standards that should be maintained by (productive) activities with inter-municipal impact; fix the average and/or maximum densities able to be established by the municipality.
  • • Regulating Plans (Planes Reguladores Comunales/PRC); define land use for - green spaces within municipalities, define areas of risk or zones where building is prohibited at an inter-municipal level (supported by the appropriate studies, PRC can specify or diminish the areas designated as risk or noconstruction zones); propose and recognise areas that are protected for their natural resources or heritage value. PRI/PRM are prepared by the MINVU’s SEREMI in each of the country’s 15 regions. The plan must be consulted to the municipalities affected, which also requires approval by the region’s Regional Council (Consejo Regional) and MINVU. In addition, PRI/PRM must pass an environmental strategic obligatory evaluation.

Source: OECD (2013), OECD Urban Policy Reviews: Chile 2013, OECD Publishing, Paris,

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