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United Nations Conference on Human Settlements

11 June 1976

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[Recommendations from the Vancouver Plan of Action, June 1976]

The Vancouver Action Plan. D. Land


1. Land, because of its unique nature and the crucial role it plays in human settlements, cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice; if unchecked, it may become a major obstacle in the planning and implementation of development schemes. Social justice, urban renewal and development, the provision of decent dwellings-and healthy conditions for the people can only be achieved if land is used in the interests of society as a whole.

2. Instead, the pattern of land use should be determined by the long-term interests of the community, especially since decisions on location of activities and therefore of specific land uses have a long-lasting effect on the pattern and structure of human settlements. Land is also a primary element of the natural and man-made environment and a crucial link in an often delicate balance. Public control of land use is therefore indispensable to its protection as an asset and the achievement of the long-term objectives of human settlement policies and strategies.

3. To exercise such control effectively, public authorities require detailed knowledge of the current patterns of use and tenure of land; appropriate legislation defining the boundaries of individual rights and public interest; and suitable instruments for assessing the value of land and transferring to the community, inter alia through taxation, the unearned increment resulting from changes in use, or public investment or decisions, or due to the general growth of the community.

4. Above all, Governments must have the political will to evolve and implement innovative and adequate urban and rural land policies, as a corner-stone of their efforts to improve the quality of life in human settlements.

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Recommendation D.1 Land resource management

  1. Land is one of the most valuable natural resources and it must be used rationally. Public ownership or effective control of land in the public interest is the single most important means or improving the capacity of human settlements to absorb changes and movements in population, modifying their internal structure and achieving a more equitable distribution of the benefits or development whilst assuring that environmental impacts are considered.

  2. Land is a scarce resource whose management should be subject to public surveillance or control in the interest of the nation.

  3. This applies in particular to land required for:

    1. The extension and improvement of existing settlements, the development of new ones and, in general, the achievement of a more efficient network of human settlements;

    2. The implementation of programmes of urban renewal and land-assembly, schemes;

    3. The provision or public shelter, infrastructure and services;

    4. The preservation and improvement of valuable components of the man-made environment, such as historic sites and monuments and other areas of unique and aesthetic social and cultural value;

    5. The protection and enhancement of the natural environment especially in sensitive areas of special geographic and ecological significance such as coastal regions and other areas subject to the impact of development, recreation and tourism activities.

  • Land is a natural resource fundamental to the economic, social and political development of peoples and therefore Governments must maintain full jurisdiction and exercise complete sovereignty over such land with a view to freely planning development of human settlements throughout the whole of the natural territory. This resource must not be the subject of restrictions imposed by foreign nations which enjoy the benefits while preventing its rational use.

  • In all occupied territories, changes in the demographic composition, or the transfer or uprooting of the native population, and the destruction of existing human settlements in these lands and/or the establishment of new settlements for intruders, is inadmissible. The heritage and national identity must be protected. Any policies that violate these principles must be condemned.

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    Recommendation D.2 Control of land use changes

    1. Agricultural land, particularly on the periphery of urban areas, is an important national resource 5 without public control land is a prey to speculation and urban encroachment.

    2. Change in the use of land, especially from agricultural to urban, should be subject to public control and regulation.

    3. Such control may be exercised through:

      1. Zoning and land-use planning as a basic instrument of land policy in general and or control of land-use changes in particular;

      2. Direct intervention, e.g. the creation of land reserves and land banks, purchase, compensated expropriation and/or pre-emption, acquisition of development rights, conditioned leasing of public and communal land, formation of public and mixed development enterprises;

      3. Legal controls, e.g. compulsory registration, changes in administrative boundaries, development building and local permits, assembly and replotting:

      4. Fiscal controls, e.g. property taxes, tax penalties and tax incentives;

      5. A planned co-ordination between orderly urban development and the promotion and location of new developments, preserving agricultural land.

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    Recommendation D.3 Recapturing plus value

    1. Excessive profits resulting from the increase in land value due to development and change in use are one of the principal causes of the concentration of wealth in private hands. Taxation should not be seen only as a source of revenue for the community but also as a powerful tool to encourage development of desirable locations, to exercise a controlling effect on the land market and to redistribute to the public at large the benefits of the unearned increase in land values.

    2. The unearned increment resulting from the rise in land values resulting from change in use of land, from public investment or decision or due to the general growth of the community must be subject to appropriate recapture by public bodies (the community), unless the situation calls for other additional measures such as new patterns of ownership, the general acquisition of land by public bodies.

    3. Specific ways and means include:

      1. Levying of appropriate taxes, e.g. capital gains taxes, land taxes and betterment charges, and particularly taxes on unused or under-utilized land;

      2. Periodic and frequent assessment of land values in and around cities, and determination of the rise in such values relative to the general level of prices:

      3. Instituting development charges or permit fees and specifying the time-limit within which construction must start;

      4. Adopting pricing and compensation policies relating to value of land prevailing at a specified time rather than its commercial value at the time of acquisition by public authorities;

      5. Leasing of publicly owned land in such a way that future increment which is not due to the efforts by the new user is kept by the community;

      6. Assessment of land suitable for agricultural use which is in proximity of cities mainly at agricultural values.

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    Recommendation D.4 Public ownership

    1. Public ownership of land cannot be an end in itself; it is justified in so far as it is exercised in favour of the common good rather than to protect the interests of the already privileged.

    2. Public ownership, transitional or permanent, should be used, wherever appropriate, to secure and control areas of urban expansion and protection; and to implement urban and rural land reform processes, and supply serviced land at price levels which can secure socially acceptable patterns of development.

    3. Special consideration should be given to:

      1. Measures outlined in Recommendations D.2 and D.3 above;

      2. Active public participation in land development;

      3. Rational distribution of powers among various levels of government, including communal and local authorities, and an adequate system of financial support for land policy.

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    Recommendation D.5 Patterns of ownerships

    1. Many countries are undergoing a process of profound social transformation; a review and restructuring or the entire system of ownership rights is, in the majority of cases, essential to the accomplishment of new national objectives.

    2. Past patterns of ownership rights should be transform 3 to match the changing needs of society and be collectively beneficial.

    3. Special attention should be paid to:

      1. Redefinition of legal ownership including the rights of women and disadvantaged groups and usage rights for a variety of purposes;

      2. Promoting land reform measures to bring ownership rights into conformity with the present and future needs of society;

      3. Clear definition of public objectives and private ownership rights and duties which may vary with time and place;

      4. Transitional arrangements to change ownership from traditional and customary patterns to new systems, especially in connexion with communal lands, whenever such patterns are no longer appropriate;

      5. Methods for the separation of land ownership rights from development rights, the latter to be entrusted to a public authority:

      6. Adoption or policies for long-term leasing or land;

      7. The land rights of indigenous peoples so that their cultural and historical heritage is preserved.

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    Recommendation D.6 Increase in usable land

    1. In view of the limited availability of land for human settlements and the need to prevent the continuing loss of valuable natural areas due to erosion, urban encroachment and other causes, efforts to conserve and reclaim land for both agriculture and settlements without upsetting the ecological balance are imperative.

    2. The supply of usable land should be maintained by all appropriate methods including soil conservation, control of desertification and salination, prevention of pollution, and use of land capability analysis and increased by long-term programmes of land reclamation and preservation.

    3. Special attention should be paid to:

      1. Land-fill, especially by using solid wastes in close proximity to human settlements, but without detriment to environment and geological conditions;

      2. Control of soil erosion, e.g. through reforestation, flood control, flood plain management, changes in cultivation patterns and methods, and controls on indiscriminate grazing;

      3. Control and reversal of desertification and salinization, and recuperation of fertile land from contamination by endemic disease;

      4. Reclamation of water-logged areas in a manner that minimizes adverse environmental effects

      5. Application of new technologies such as those related to flood control, soil conservation and stabilization and irrigation;

      6. Prevention of pollution as well as restoration of derelict or damaged land, control of fire and preservation of the environment from natural and man-made hazards;

      7. Economizing land by fixing appropriate densities in areas where land is scarce or rich in agricultural value;

      8. Proper land capability assessment programmes should be introduced at the local, regional and national levels so that land use allocation will most benefit the community: and areas suited to long-term reclamation and preservation will be identified and appropriate action taken;

      9. Incorporation of new land into settlements by provision of infrastructure;

      10. Control of the location of human settlements in hazardous zones and important natural areas;

      11. Expansion of agricultural lands with proper drainage.

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    Recommendation D.7 Information needs

    1. Effective land use planning and control measures cannot be implemented unless the public and all levels of government have access to adequate information.

    2. Comprehensive information on land capability, characteristics, tenure, use and legislation should be collected and constantly up-dated so that all citizens and levels of government can be guided as to the most beneficial land use allocation and control measures.

    3. This implies:

      1. The establishment of a comprehensive information system involving all levels of government; and accessible to the public;

      2. Topographic and cadastral surveys and assessment of land capabilities and current use, and periodic evaluations of the use of the land;

      3. Simplification and updating of procedures for collection, analysis and distribution of relevant information in an accurate and comprehensive manner;

      4. Introduction of new surveying and mapping technologies suitable to the conditions of the countries concerned;

      5. Consolidation and effective use of existing or innovative legislation and instruments to implement land policies;

      6. Development and use of methods for assessing economic, social and environmental impacts from proposed projects in a form useful to the public;

      7. Consideration of land use characteristics including ecological tolerances and optimum utilization of land so as to minimize pollution, conserve energy, and protect and recover resources;

      8. Undertake the necessary studies on precautions that can be taken to safeguard life and property in case of natural disaster.