The advantages of the municipality of Bela Palanka can be found in its exceptional natural resources and opportunities for the development of cattle, sheep and goat farming. The municipality currently has 1,406 head of cattle, 7,000 sheep, 2,613 pigs and 2,121 goats. A lot has been done in the last few years to improve existing breeds and acquire quality bulls, primarily for breeding purposes.
Orchards cover approximately 500 hectares of land in the municipality and are predominantly plum orchards. However, thanks to the local government’s assistance to private investors, 30 hectares of cherry orchards have also been created.
Which areas have the greatest development potential in the municipality of Bela Palanka?
– The real development potential here lies in the municipality’s exceptional strategic position, a wealth of natural resources, good climate, many tourism opportunities and cultural heritage.
Agricultural production is also a great development opportunity and, that to our almost ideal climatic conditions, we aim to facilitate the development of fruit growing, primarily cherry, sour cherry and plum, with our subsidies. We are working on being granted the protection of geographical indication for our indigenous variety of pepper, called Belopalanačka Vrtka. The environment here is perfect for growing medicinal herbs, and we have the biggest lavender farm in the Balkans, spanning 30 hectares. Beekeeping is also very well developed, thanks to the bountiful flora in the hills and mountains, as well as a well-organised beekeepers’ association called Kovanluk.
Bela Palanka has a great cultural and historical heritage which we have always been promoting intending to develop various aspects of tourism. Our long history enabled us to become a member of the Association of European Capitals and Cities of Culture in 2013. We have been of great assistance to the Bela Palanka Tourist Association, which is engaged in promoting the municipality’s historical heritage and tradition.
The municipality was also declared the most successful local government in terms of helping with the staging of various events. Our most important event, which is renowned nationwide, is the Banica Days, during which we promote the cultural heritage of the Bela Palanka area, our traditional banica dish, our customs and old crafts. This is a very popular event, and in 2015 alone we had over 20,000 visitors from Serbia and 4,000 visitors from Bulgaria.
WE TRY TO DO SOMETHING GOOD FOR OUR POPULATION EVERY DAY. AS MUCH AS OUR CAPACITIES ALLOW, WE TRY TO MAKE EVERYONE FEEL AS THOUGH THIS LOCAL GOVERNMENT IS WORKING IN THE SERVICE OF ITS CITIZENS
What are the municipal authorities plans when it comes to improving the overall economic image of the municipality and how much help do you receive from the state authorities?
– Good infrastructure and well-equipped industrial zones are the main prerequisites for enticing investments, and this is our priority. We have launched a public call for the allocation of subsidies for private companies, which would hire unemployed people who are usually less employable, as well as for introducing new standards and products and improving the quality of existing products.
We also provide agricultural subsidies for the acquisition of equipment, machinery, irrigation systems and registered cattle, as well as subsidies for the acquisition of greenhouses with the relevant equipment and beekeeping equipment.
All of our documents and plans are drafted in accordance with the Municipality of Bela Palanka’s Sustainable Development Strategy. We have established cooperation with international organisations, the Institute of the Regions of Europe, the OSCE, the Danish Council, and the EU PROGRESS, and we have also implemented large-scale projects within the framework of the Cross Border Cooperation Programme.
The municipality of Bela Palanka has won many awards, including one for successfully implementing a project in the Exchange 3 Programme and the Leader of Sustainable Development Award presented to us by the CEDEF.
All municipalities expect an FDI influx, including Bela Palanka. Could you tell us something about the municipality’s priorities in terms of attracting potential investments?
– Revitalising economic capacities and regulating industrial zones are the main priorities in our municipality. The Murica 1 industrial zone now has a complete infrastructure. We are currently negotiating with investors and expect between 300 and 500 new jobs to be created through greenfield and brownfield investments.
Tourism is also one of our top priorities. Thanks to the public-private partnership and Cross Border Cooperation Programme, we will implement projects that will improve our tourist infrastructure. Since we expect a lot of tourists to visit our municipality, we are going to construct the Vrelo Hotel in an attractive location, near the town centre. The hotel will improve the town’s tourist offer and create new jobs.
We have applied for funds from the Cross Border Cooperation Programme with our project “Construction of the Cultural-Tourist-Educational Centre Vrelo in the location of the Vrelo Park”. We will also establish a facility that will provide all sorts of services to tourists, host cultural events and educate future hospitality staff, both from Serbia and abroad. During the implementation of the “Rehabilitation of Lapidarium” project, we are going to revitalise the old Remisiana archaeological site and improve our town’s tourist offer.
The municipal spatial plan envisages three industrial zones. When do you expect these zones to become active?
-Yes, our spatial plan envisages three industrial zones in the close proximity of Corridor 10. Following the adoption of the General Regulation Plan and Detailed Regulation Plan for the Murica 1 industrial zone, we installed complete infrastructure in that zone, which spans eight hectares. We are currently negotiating with potential investors who are very interested in investing in our municipality because of the good strategic position of our industrial zones. The Detailed Regulatory Plan now allows us to start working on the Murica 2 zone.
A section of Corridor 10 recently opened in the municipality. How much is this going to improve the municipality’s economic environment?
– Bela Palanka has an extremely favourable geographical location and transport position. In addition, Corridor 10, which has a 32-kilometre-long segment traversing our municipality and which connects Central and Western Europe to the Middle East, ensures that Bela Palanka is also well-connected to other regional centres. We are 42km from Niš and 108km from Sofia. Companies from Turkey have heard about our good strategic position and, with the help of the Turkish ambassador to Serbia, we have managed to establish contact with them and present our municipality’s potential to businesspeople from Istanbul, Ankara and Kocaeli.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to face since you became municipal president, and what are your plans?
– We inherited a lot of debt, exceeding 250 million Dinars. We have managed to normalise the functioning of the local public enterprises that are vital for the entire municipal population. We invested a lot of effort into implementing large-scale infrastructure projects with the funds (around €1.5 million) we received from the EU. We have built a sports hall and the Banjica Environmental and Recreational Centre. Since we need more money to continue working on the Centre, we have applied for funds from the Cross Border Cooperation Programme.
After providing full infrastructure for the Murica 1 industrial zone, we are in the final stages of negotiations with future investors, and we expect between 300 and 500 new jobs to be created as a result. Following the adoption of the Detailed Regulatory Plan, we are going to install infrastructure in the Murica 2 zone. Bela Palanka also has several other locations suitable for brownfield investments.
We also plan to build ten small hydropower plants with a total output of 11 megawatts, which will cost €30 million. To build these plants, we had to adopt five detailed regulatory plans and two spatial planning projects. We are currently constructing the Vrgudinac mini-hydro power plant, valued at €4.5 million.
International funds have recognised our expertise and experience in project management, which is why Bela Palanka has been chosen to be one of the 34 partners in the EU PROGRESS programme, thanks to which we have been implementing several important infrastructure projects. In cooperation with this programme, we have been preparing a number of large-scale investments for the 2016-2019 period.
We will pay a lot of attention to young people in rural areas and plan to award grants for the development of farms, especially small dairy farms, with the aim of encouraging young people to return to or stay in, rural areas.
We are also going to support farms that want to engage in the fruit processing sector, through subsidies for the construction of small driers and cold storage units, as well as providing support to farmers who want to grow vegetables. We will focus in particular on granting incentives for growing Vrtka, our indigenous variety of bell pepper.
We have been trying to achieve economic progress based on the contemporary concept of economic and social development and, in order to do this, we need to both plan and define our development goals. In our 2010-2020 Sustainable Development Strategy, we have identified key areas that require additional investments, with the end-goal being the swift economic recovery of the municipality of Bela Palanka.
We try to do something good for our population every day. As much as our capacities allow, we try to make everyone feel as though this local government is working in the service of its citizens.