France : The Local Urban Zoning Plan (PLU) – What is it?

We’ve been wondering what’s the PLU? Our explanatory article about the French “Plan local d’urbanisme”. A fundamental document of french urbanism which includes a zoning plan, as well a good deal of important information concerning the use of the local ground.

In France, the rules for town planning are clear and urbanism follows a long tradition! Thus the Local Urban Plan (PLU) is drawn up in a commune and sets the rules for urban planning. It serves to harmonize the city and to ensure territorial coherence on a national scale. Within the framework of a grouping of municipalities and thus of inter-municipal cooperation, the PLU is replaced by the PLUi. The latter pools the interests of the different communes, but also defines the principles of the evolution of the territory as a whole. The Grand-Paris is a good example of this, as is the case of the Plaine Commune grouping. The latter recently approved its PLUi by the territorial council in February 2020.

France is divided into 13 regions. These in turn contain 101 departments, the French federal territories. One level below are the municipalities. In all cases, these are called “collectivités territoriales“, the local authorities below the national level. In French, these are known as territories / territoires. The inter-municipal associations of cities, which are organized with a PLUi, have a special (intermediate) status.

The “Plan Local d’Urbanisme” (PLU) – What exactly is it?

The Plan Local d’Urbanisme (PLU) is an urban planning document which, at the level of the grouping of communes or the commune, translates a global development and urban planning project and consequently sets the rules for development and land use.
Translation of the official document about urbanism and the general rules of / Collectivité territoriale françaises

It is therefore the document, which must be respected when building or modifying a house. This includes adding a small garage or additional story in height and requires a permit for an additional local government. It also contains a section dedicated to “Planning and Sustainable Development“. (PADD), which provides guidance on major social and ecological issues. The Risk Prevention Plan (RPP) of a municipality can be found also in the PLU: It defines the land use and the regulatory areas. Among other things, providing an analysis of potential risks to which a piece of land is exposed.

These risks can be various: avalanche danger in the alpine communities, forest fires, as is the case with the Calanques in Marseilles, or risks of ground collapse as in Paris, due to the catacombs and underground quarries.

chemin de fer pont cardinet sanit lazare, pont en fer, sncf trains, ecoquartier clichy batignolles, grand immeuble blanc, architecture contemporaine, urban developement, PLU Zone, zoning plan
A look at the recently planned ecological neighborhood of Clichy-Batignolles in Paris (Urbanauth / 2020)

So what about the different areas of French urban planning?

Among other things, the PLU divides urban cities into different zones. In total, there are no less than 20 categories determining the characteristics and the framework of municipal land use. For example, there is Zone A for agricultural land, which concerns the fields. Zone NA for “future urbanisation zone” refers to land that is open for urbanisation. The EU badge for commercial, craft and industrial areas describes an urban area. In contrast, the PTA for “Ecologically Sensitive Natural Area”, which denotes outstanding natural areas. These ecologically sensitive areas need significant protection to safeguard biodiversity. It is hardly impossible to build any habitat there.

Where to find the local urban zoning plan (PLU) of your city in France?

The PLU of different communes can be consulted by the services of town planning of the town halls. Or directly online on the website of the town hall.

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