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Goran Vesić, Minister Of Construction, Transport And Infrastructure

Nothing Will Stop Us

We want construction to continue at full steam in Serbia, for investors and citizens to be protected, deadlines for obtaining permits shortened, procedures made more efficient and the possibility of arbitrariness reduced

Important legislative amendments that should lead to the further development of the construction sector will soon enter the parliamentary procedure. These are the amendments to the Law on Planning and Construction, which is in principle a good law, but the time has come to innovate it to be even more efficient, says Serbian Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Goran Vesić. “It’s important that we maintain a high level of construction activities, which “fell” by around 10 per cent last year due to the crisis,” explains our interlocutor.

The amendments to this law are essentially aimed at ensuring greater transparency, introducing order and accelerating the adoption of green construction practises. Conditions for holders of public authority will in future be issued through the e-prostor [e-space] digital platform, rather than being issued in paper format. Clear deadlines will be included, and the holders of public authority won’t be able to change the conditions during the procedure for issuing a construction permit. Investors will have to secure an insurance policy prior to registering works, in order for any injured party to be able to receive compensation in the event of an accident, and investors will also have to provide proof of the steps to dispose of construction waste prior to obtaining building permits, in order to avoid the creation of wild dumpsites.

“We will stimulate green construction, and every public facility and other building covering an area greater than ten thousand square metres will have to possess a green construction certificate. We are also introducing an obligation for a certain number of parking spaces in new buildings to have an electric vehicle charger. Investors who build ecologically will pay reduced contributions for construction land,” explains Minister Vesić.

The proposed abolishing of the conversion of construction land and associated fee has again been met with stormy reactions in the country. What are your reasons for advocating in favour of this position?

No country in Eastern Europe has a conversion institute. The cancelling of conversion will not harm the state in any way, because 90 per cent of conversions have been done without fees since 2011. On the contrary, following the abolition of that institute, the state will earn more, through the collection of fees for construction land contributions, the price per square metre, real estate turnover, the employing of people and the payment of taxes. That’s why I don’t understand the remarks claiming that cancelling conversion will cause the state to lose billions of euros in fees, because that is completely false.

A total of 134.7 kilometres of new railways have been built in Serbia since 2012, with 754.9 kilometres of railways reconstructed, while at present 156.8 kilometres are under construction or reconstruction.

Statistics show that, in the 13 years since the 2009 adoption of the law, the Serbian budget has received only 31 million euros on the basis of land conversion charges, while we’ve lost thousands of jobs. Local governments have lost out on hundreds of millions of euros through construction land contributions, which have not been collected, as well as through unpaid property taxes. So, we’ve lost much more than we’ve gained. If it were possible to collect those land conversion fee billions that the state has allegedly been deprived of, they would have been collected by now, and cities and municipalities wouldn’t have lost out on hundreds of millions of euros.

Under the scope of its obligations related to environmental protection and harmonisation with the European Union in the area of the Green Deal, Serbia has taken on a number of obligations to advance this area. Which parts impact your sector and how will they be addressed through proposed legal amendments?

The main targets defined by the Green Deal relate to greenhouse gas emissions, and the most important target is to reduce emissions of those gases in the EU by 50-55 per cent by 2030, i.e., for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050. Considering that the transport sector has a major impact on the environment, this area is recognised as an important issue to which attention needs to be paid. Serbia is not an EU member state, but this framework relates to us massively. I will remind you that in October 2020, at the Berlin Process summit in Sofia, the governments of the six countries of the Western Balkans committed themselves to implementing the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, as a tangible plan to extend the Green Deal to Southeast Europe.

Serbia is working to improve the area of rail transport significantly. In order to further reduce emissions of harmful gases, railway infrastructure projects also imply the electrification of rail lines that have not yet been electrified, such as the Niš-Dimitrovgrad or Belgrade Centre-Vršac lines.

Likewise, we are strengthening capacities linked to combined transport, and we’re doing so through investments in the construction and reconstruction of intermodal terminals, but also by strengthening the capacities of companies with operations related to combined transport, and all in order for us to be able to transfer “goods flows” from roads to railways. It is estimated that about 15.7 million passengers and approximately 87.92 million tons of goods in Serbia will switch from road traffic to rail by 2030, which will contribute to protecting the environment.

Furthermore, we are working on the establishment of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and the implementation of TSIs (Technical Specifications interoperability), in order to provide for automation and facilitate traffic management along the main corridors connecting Serbia with the countries of the region and further with the EU countries. However, first and foremost, Belgrade and Novi Sad have been connected via the country’s first high-speed railway, which will be extended northwards to Subotica and Budapest, and southwards to Niš.

You took over the post of construction minister at a time when many countries, including ours, need to solve the problem of fiscal stabilisation and stimulate economic growth due to the global crisis. How does this situation reflect on the plans of your ministry?

We haven’t given up on any project, and nor will we. And we are serious in our intentions to complete all projects according to plan and to launch new ones. First of all, the 18-kilometre- long section of the Moravian Corridor from Pojat to Makrešan will be completed on 31st March, while the 28-kilometre-long section to Koševi will be completed by the end of September, which means that Kruševac will have a direct connection to the highway before the end of the year. Works are also being implemented on other sections, to Adran and between Čačak and Kraljevo. The section to Adran, which means connecting Kraljevo with the highway, will be completed in the first quarter of 2024, with the last section – between Koševi and Vrba near Kraljevo – to be completed in 2025.

We will also open the Surčin-New Belgrade section to traffic by the end of March. This section is eight kilometres long and represents the closest connection of that part of the city to Miloš the Great Motorway. The Belgrade Bypass to Bubanj Potok will be finalised on 1st June, and we will continue building the bypass all the way to Pančevo. Design works are underway and we will build a road-rail bridge over the Danube, near Ada Huja, to Pančevo. Final works are also being completed on the Iverak-Lajkovac expressway, which will connect Valjevo to Miloš the Great Motorway.

We have 5,000 “captured” locations that would be freed by the abolishing of land conversion provisions, finally making it possible to build on them. Everyone who deals with the GDP and investments in Serbia responsibly knows how important this is

The motorway section from Pakovraće to Požega will be completed by the end of this year. The Ruma-Šabac section that forms part of the Ruma-Šabac-Loznica expressway, is being constructed and will be completed by August or early September, and this year will also see the completion of works on the Kuzmin-Sremska Rača section, together with a bridge over the Sava linking to Republika Srpska. Agreement is being reached on the part from the bypass in Kragujevac, via the road towards Mrčajevci and connection with the Moravian Corridor.

We are also working on expressways in the east, from the motorway at Požarevac and further onwards to Veliko Gradište, Golubac. The 70-kilometre-long Požarevac- Golubac section is being constructed without interruption, while work will continue on the project design for the Danube national road, as a tender has been announced for the design of that section. Works are also being carried out on the Niš-Merdare motorway, along the 33-kilometre-long section from Niš to Pločnik.

We will launch works this year on the construction of the motorway between Bački Breg and Nakov, which will connect the border with Hungary and the border with Romania. We should start building the Belgrade-Zrenjanin-Novi Sad expressway next year. We will also build a new Novi Pazar-Kraljevo expressway, covering a distance of 103 kilometres. Works are also massively underway on the construction of the Fruška Gora Corridor, which includes the longest tunnel in Serbia (Iriški Venac Tunnel), at 3.6 kilometres long.

When it comes to transport, Serbia forms part of the European transport corridors. How does inclusion in this network impact our choice of construction and connection priorities within the Western Balkans?

Regional connectivity is among Serbia’s priorities. Our country lies on the European corridors, and that’s why it’s important for us to be in full harmony with the EU, which treats us almost like an EU member in the area of transport. In the European Union, during my recent visit to Brussels, our proposal that the EU assist us in the project to reconstruct 588 kilometres of regional railways, which need to be completely reconstructed and electrified, was well received. These routes include the railway connecting Serbia and Romania, one heading from Belgrade to Pančevo and Vršac, and another other to Romania, via Belgrade, Zrenjanin and Kikinda, then the Vrbas-Sombor route and the railway that leads to Bosut on the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. And then also the one from Kraljevo to Kosovo.

When it comes to road links, we are building motorways with the precise purpose of improving regional connectivity in the Western Balkans, including the Motorway of Peace [auto-put Mira], which should connect Niš to the Albanian coast via Priština. Then there’s the Kuzmin-Sremska Rača expressway heading towards Bijeljina in Republika Srpska, and from there Bosnia-Herzegovina will further construct the route to Sarajevo. Moreover, upon completion of the Preljina-Požega section of the motorway, we will continue building two motorways from Požega: one to Kotroman, Višegrad and Republika Srpska; and the other to Duga Poljana and Boljare, i.e., to the border with Montenegro.

These corridors should all enable the easier and faster flow of people, goods and services, which is crucial to the further economic growth of all countries of the region. Apart from that, we are completing the intermodal terminal in Batajnica, while we are also building another one the same in Makiš, as a road-rail hub where goods will be transferred from one mode of transport to another, which will make Belgrade and Serbia a real “transport hub” in this part of Europe. And this means that there will be ever-more work for all people engaged in the field of traffic and transport.

DETERMINATION

We haven’t given up on any project, and nor will we. And we are serious in our intentions to complete all projects according to plan and to launch new ones

TRANSITION

It is estimated that approximately 15.7 million passengers and 87.92 million tons of goods in Serbia will switch from road traffic to rail by 2030, which will contribute to protecting the environment

DEVELOPMENT

All the corridors that we are building should enable the easier and faster flow of people, goods and services, which is crucial to the further economic growth of all countries of the region

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