Development control

Insights into what is involved in buying, selling & living in Portugal

Development control in Portugal and how it works.

It must be the ambition of every country to manage their territory so as to guarantee to future generations that land and buildings will be properly laid out; that everything will be planned to take into account factors such as national and cultural resources, environmental issues and the division of land on a fair basis between public and private interests.

Zoning, the process by which this is achieved, focuses on the need to improve both the quality of life and standard of living of its inhabitants. It does so by examining and regulating issues such as housing shortages, degenerated areas, the preservation of areas of natural beauty, opportunities for job creation, proper use of agricultural soil and the preservation of coastal areas and rivers. Any actions, whether by the private sector or public bodies alike, which flout the provisions of zoning instruments are invalid.

Zoning operates at three different levels; National, Regional and Municipal. These should not conflict with each other, and each has planning instruments at their own level.

For example, the Regional Plan for the Algarve ‘PROTAL’ must be compatible with the National Plan and Municipal Plans. The regional plans, similarly, must not conflict with either the Regional or the National Plan.

At municipal level there are three main planning instruments:

  1. The PDM (Plano Director Municipal - this is based on local development strategy as well as regional and national policy. It is a master plan for the district, and establishes the basic classification and qualification of land, construction densities in accordance with local infrastructures, present and future.

  2. The PU (Urbanisation Plan) - this is used whenever a given area or town needs to be planned in its own right, e.g. Sagres, Quinta do Lago and other major developments.

  3. The PP (Plano de Pormenor) - this is a Detailed Plan which regulates the use of any given area within the municipality in detail.

Following the hierarchal system, PDMs are passed by the local authority, approved by the Regional Authorities and ratified by the Government.

While Urbanisation Plans are passed by the Local Authority they are subject to approval by the Regional Authorities, and must be ratified by the Government if they do not conform to the PDM to which they are subject, or if for any reason the latter is ineffective. The same principles apply to Detailed Plans. Plans may be partially approved.

Local authorities are responsible for the drawing up of all PDMs, and this is an elaborate process in which the public takes part.

Representations and suggestions may be made by the public to the appointed Committee and a public enquiry must take place. The PDM itself consists of three main documents:

  1. A map of the area showing the classification and qualification of land.

  2. The regulations.

  3. A plan showing utilities and other easements for public purposes, which may limit in some way the use of land.

Equally some government agencies need to be consulted on the viability of any proposed plan - the Ministries of the Environment and Tourism being the most common. Local authorities putting up plans that do not conform to these government agencies own strategies and guidelines will be turned down, or recommendations will be made for their further improvement. The same applies to plans that are sent within the hierarchical system for checking with regional and national authorities; any incompatibility found will result in the plan being returned to the local authority for amendment and resubmission. All of this, together with the considerable resources in both time and money in the drawing up of zoning instruments, often results in substantial delays in their implementation.

No planning instrument is legally valid unless it has been published in the Government

Contact me


See also