Cities and Neighbourhoods

Zoning New Building Land in Berlin Has High Hurdles to Jump


April 2019

The shortage in zoned development area is generally considered one of the main reasons that prevent the rapid creation of new residential accommodation. Especially in Germany’s major conurbations, the focus is therefore on infill densification and the addition of extra floors to existing residential buildings. In Berlin alone, according to calculations done by Berlin’s Senate Administration, there is potentially enough space to create another 50,000 flats on the city’s roof tops (source: But some experts doubt whether steps taken to raise this potential will suffice to offset the housing shortage.

The small-scale infilling efforts fall short of the mark, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recently wrote, quoting Prof. Michael Voigtländer, Head of the Competence Centre Real Estate Markets at the IW Economic Institute in Cologne (source: This would suggest that the housing shortage will be almost impossible to relieve without mobilising new development land – and it should be added that there are definitely undeveloped areas in Berlin that would principally be suitable for housing construction.


Substantial Brownfield Sites Remain Unused

In February, the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel had already identified five locations in the city as examples that large undeveloped areas could be developed into 70,000 flats to help cover the housing demand (source: Many of the vacant building and brownfield are still zoned as trading estates, are subject to heritage protection or were earmarked for zoning and development a long time ago – so far, without success. New-build construction projects are moreover hampered by the fact that Berlin’s Senate Department does not seem to have a comprehensive list of brownfield sites and their potential.

It was only recently that Katrin Lompscher, the Senator for Urban Development, presented the “Urban Development Master Plan Residential 2030” that takes stock of the situation and will serve as basis for possible amendments to the local development plans and for an improved public land management (source: It includes, for instance, the development of up to 26 state-owned allotment colonies into a total of 7,000 flats – but not before 2030, due to effective political assurances.


Investment Bank and Public Administration Zero in on Construction Backlog

In the short term, the strain in Berlin is to be relieved by rolling back the construction backlog. In order to accelerate the construction of already approved flats, Berlin’s Senate Administration intends to support the borough in their efforts to identify the reason why specific projects are delayed and to actively facilitate the search for a solution. Moreover, state-owned land is to be passed on more quickly to housing cooperatives so as to make it easier to create affordable housing accommodation, or so Senator Lompscher announced in her preface to the 2018 Housing Market Report by IBB Investment Bank Berlin (source:

According to the report by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung cited above, it remains to be seen, however, just how quickly this will proceed – the paper discusses several cases in which the State of Berlin has taken owners to court to force the implementation of planned projects (source: In most cases, this approach causes the start of construction work to be delayed for years, the paper added.

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