The Czech government is expected to approve a Transport Ministry amendment aimed at getting infrastructure projects – currently stalled – back on track. The completion of both highways and railway routes depends on winning over disaffected landowners by offering better prices for arable land than they had until now.
The Czech government is due to discuss an amendment prepared by the Transport Ministry to pay owners significantly more for arable land needed for the completion of major public construction projects, including the completion of railway routes or highways currently stopped dead in their tracks. This includes the R35 throughway from Hradec Králove to Mihulice, where one owner would rather see the matter settled in court rather than sell for the artificially-low price set by legislation until now. Under existing legislation approved by the former government of Petr Nečas, arable land bought by the state for projects in the public interest, was paid a mere 8 to 15 crowns per square metre. In one case reported by Czech Television the amount offered was less than a tenth of the estimated value of the plot – which under different circumstances could be sold for more than a million crowns.
The legislation passed by the former government was aimed at preventing speculators from buying up agricultural land in the hope of making a killing. But the low purchase prices set out by the state have had a predictable result with sales of land needed for projects grinding to a halt and hundreds of cases ending up in court battles and legal red tape.
The state reserves the right to expropriate owners of land as a last resort in cases where they hold out interminably. But current transport minister, Antonín Prachař, has pointed out that a single such court case can take up to four years to decide. In an interview on public broadcaster Czech Television on Tuesday, he made clear it was in the country’s interest to reach deals with land owners instead so that urgent projects can be finished and not be left gathering dust at the edge of corn fields.
How much more will the state be willing to pay for arable land if the amendment is passed? Up to 16 times the expert evaluation of the value of the land. The transport minister has pointed out that costs should not rise too dramatically given that even under the proposed changes buy-up costs would still amount to only between 1.3 and 1.9 percent of individual project costs.
As for owners who still refused to settle under the improved terms? The expropriation of land will still remain an option of last resort. At least one local mayor has so far welcomed the plan – suggesting that individual owners as well as municipalities which hold property should be more willing to sell. And the amendment could receive backing even from among the opposition. Former Civic Democrat transport minister Zbyněk Stanjura warns though that many details remain to be ironed out – including who would pay the new 4 percent property tax – the property seller or the state. If approved by the government, the amendment could be fast-tracked through Parliament to pave the way for the purchase of needed plots and the continuation of public construction contacts as soon as possible.