Issue 1, 2013. February-March

   

CONSTRUCTION CODE: A WORK IN PROGRESS

For the past seven years, the Georgian government has been working with USAID on streamlining construction permits, creating zoning regulation, and other reforms. While some progress has been made, much more is necessary to make the Georgian construction code meet with international standards.

Temur Bolotashvili

Building Codes

Today, Georgia is still utilizing Soviet era technical standards (СНиП, the Russian abbreviation of Soviet Construction Norms and Rules) for new construction projects- most of which are outdated. Some СНиПs are written in the Georgian language, and structural engineers use these in structural design. As for rest, they remain unused in practice. Poor regulations, coupled with ineffective enforcement, compromises the quality of buildings, safety of occupants and the reputation of the Georgian construction industry, one of the country's biggest commercial sectors.

The need for an updated building code is urgent.

There are two main competing international systems of technical regulation for construction: Eurocodes, and the ICC Family of Codes; and Georgia must decide which system to follow. Both are good, but they have little in common. The International Code Council (ICC) Codes (a set of rules including referenced standards) represent a comprehensive, compatible and regularly updated regulatory system that foresees the prevention of hazards while designing, constructing, and operating buildings. The ICC Family of Codes is US-based but can also be utilized internationally.

Eurocodes (European standards) is a set of harmonized technical standards developed by the European Committee for the standardization of structural design in construction works. Other aspects, covered under the ICC Family of Codes - such as fire safety design, other non-structural provisions, and building services - are handled by each EU member state as separate legislation. Even for structural design, Eurocodes are designed to be used with a "national annex" produced by each EU member state to fill in gaps left in the Eurocodes.

With the help of USAID, the Georgian government has already taken some important steps towards fixing the country's building codes: it has signed an MOU with ICC to collaborate in reforming construction standards in Georgia; and has obtained a license to use the International Building Code (IBC) as the base for its national building codes elaboration. It also has a step by step implementation schedule, due to the volume and complexity of the document.

Spatial Planning

Georgian Law regarding Spatial Arrangement and Urban Development is also a mix of Soviet and western planning principles, and is therefore problematic. One issue is the lack of planning documents on a countrywide and regional level. On the local level, there are general plans for land use in several of the large cities, as well as development plans for some recreational territories. Specialists, however, have widely criticized these plans since, in most cases, they do not meet the basic needs for urban/rural development.

There is a draft "Spatial Planning and Construction Code of Georgia," prepared by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, which was agreed on in 2011. It would be possible to use this draft with a few minor changes, such as the introduction of a main policy document for spatial planning, and the updating of existing zoning regulations. Such changes would provide every self-governing entity with the legal instruments necessary to better plan their territories.

Construction Permits

Progress in streamlining permits has got faster: from 2006 to 2013, Georgia jumped 148 places on the "Dealing with Construction Permits" indicator of the annual World Bank Doing Business (DB) Survey, moving up from rank 152 on DB 2006, to being the top third country on the list in 2013. Recent changes - such as it no longer being a requirement to have the structural section of construction documents, or an engineering-geological survey for a construction permit - aimed at further simplifying permit acquisition, however, have caused alarm among safety specialists.

Temur Bolotashvili is a consultant at PMCG, a policy management and consulting company. He has more than seven years experience in construction regulation, legislation, licensing, permitting, and code analysis in Georgia and the region. For more information, please visit: www.pmcg-i.com