2011: July to December; The Year ends with Progress

December 2011
In the first week, not such good news on the DUP. We are told by a local contact, Billie, that the Škupstina decided only to approve amendments to the current DUP, and not to accept the new one. She advises that we can go ahead anyway with an application for UTUs (UTUs are Urbanistički Tehnički Uslovi = urbanistic technical requirements). UTUs are specified by the municipal planning department and give the basic technical requirements which the building MUST comply with. Generally this means not only the ratios of footprint and total living space to plot size, but also minimum structural requirements (eg earthquake proofing), any specific design requirements (eg type of roof) &c &c. Apparently they also give useful info such as rainfall statistics. We have never seen a set of UTUs but Billie says they are usually about 5 pages, and normally take about a month to come through. Given the normal bureaucratic forms here we suspect that much of that contains references to various laws and regulations!

We do as she recommends and the UTU application is lodged on 20 Dec. A week later, Billie tells us unofficially that we will be allowed the maximum footprint on our plot and not restricted to that of ‘Le Beton’, which was one of the possibilities. The official paperwork has still to be processed (by the water, electricity &c authorities) and should be ready in the second part of January, as expected. A great way to end the year!

Among all this we spend a few days in Rome to celebrate our wedding anniversary – easy flight from Dubrovnik via Zagreb, with a direct return flight. We stay in the delightful Hotel Abruzzi in the Piazza della Rotonda, opposite the Pantheon. Anke’s first time in the Eternal City; James had been taken as a snotty teenager by his mother, and had spent a day there on business about 20 years ago, so this trip is a real voyage of discovery. We even see the Pope in his Pope-mobile as he passes about 3m away on his way to a service to celebrate the Immaculate Conception.

November 2011
Early in the month, we are not holding our breath, but we hear from Dušan that the DUP should be on its final journey from the Ministry to the Municipality by the middle of the month. The next and final stage will be for the Škupstina to approve it. Since mid October, James phones the Mayor’s office regularly to get a meeting set up, but without success. He gets the feeling that she doesn’t want to see him, possibly remembering her comments in April. Finally on 7th Nov he is told that the DUP has completed all its stages in the municipality, has even been subject to an inspection from the Ministry to check that all the procedures had been done correctly, and is back in the Ministry for the final ‘rubber-stamp’. During the week, Dušan establishes it should be back down the following week. Having been through so many false starts we are hesitant to break out the bubbly just yet!

In the last week of the month, we meet the municipal planners with Dušan and are told that the DUP has indeed come down from the Ministry with all its approvals. We even see the stamped copy signed by the Minister! It is scheduled to be discussed at the next Škupstina meeting, so that it will take effect from the start of 2012. Interestingly, there is a new team in the planning office. Earlier in the year the previous head of the office was alleged to have taken bribes, which she denied, and she moved to Podgorica during the summer. The specific project over which she was challenged is in Risan and had been given building permission some years earlier. Two apartment blocks next to the main road were allowed to have three stories (thus totally blocking the light and view of the old stone house immediately behind them).

October 2011
At the beginning of the month, James hands in a letter to the Mayor’s office, stating among other points: Within the government policy of energy efficiency, it is an advantage for the government to have examples of very low energy-consuming buildings which encourage developers and citizens to adopt the (simple) technologies involved. I propose therefore that our house be adopted as such an example by the government, giving it a status of national importance within the framework of the policy of energy efficiency. I will write to the appropriate Minister asking for a decision on this shortly, which I hope should allow our project to go ahead. I ask for your support in this.’

In the context of the GBC, James meets Dragana Sekulić, Deputy Minister in the Ministry for Economy responsible for Energy Efficiency. Sadly as far as our house is concerned, there can be no public interest as it is a private dwelling. So James’ idea of some form of official approval as an object of national importance is a non-starter. Nothing much is happening on the DUP front as far as we can find out. It is supposedly somewhere between the Ministry for Sustainable Development & Tourism – now responsible for spatial planning as the successor to the Ministry for Spatial Planning and Environment – and the Municipality.

The DVLA certificate arrives, so we can start the full car import procedure. This involves getting a technical inspection certificate from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering that the car meets Euro 3 exhaust standards (the UK certificate of course is of no use!); parking the car in a customs clearance for the best part of a day while the Customs calculate the import tax and issue the documents – including a dash to the bank before it shuts to pay the tax; then a morning for the normal annual technical inspection and forms for the police registration. A week later we get the new plates! It is indeed considerably cheaper than taking the car back to UK.

Some months ago, we had been given a small greenhouse assembly by some good British friends in the Boka. James finally gets round to assembling it on a lower level below the stone house. Anke is delighted as the previous winter many of her more sensitive plants, especially the avocados, had suffered in the cold, and even more when the cold Bura blew. The inside gets quite damp, and we find a CaCl2 box which works wonders.

At the end of the month we catch the plane from Dubrovnik and fly to München to see the family there over Hallowe’en. James is found a hideous scraggly long black wig to go with his vampire cloak, and proceeds to frighten all the smaller children at the party. He then gets soundly bounced upon by the rest of them in a general melee at the end of what is actually a really fun party.

September 2011
Dušan talks to various potentially influential people about the house. One is the local head of the Historic Preservation Institute, to check if there might be any features of our design which might cause problems. A meeting is set up for 14th Sep, but Dušan is phoned the day before to be told that as there is nothing in our design which will cause problems, there is no point in a meeting. Much relief all round and a significant piece of progress. Dušan also establishes that we cannot apply for ‘Reconstruction and Enlargement’ as ‘Le Beton’ is illegal; but that the DUP is in its final stages of approval, and could be with the Municipality by the end of the month. We are sceptical!

James decides on a two-prong approach. One is to see Mayor Catović again to see when she thinks the DUP will be approved by the Municipality. The second is, no matter what she says, to write direct to Pedrag Sekulić, the Minister for Sustainable Development and Tourism, to ask him to make the house a special case, due to its importance as a demonstration house nationally. We also discuss with Dušan the possibility of getting the house approved by the Ministry for Economy, which is responsible for Energy Efficiency.

The major event of the month – or at least the one which takes up most of our time – is the GBC seminar on Friday 23rd. As we suspected, we have to do most of the work – Anke tackling the marketing and James the overall organisation. Dušan comes up trumps with a great venue, the lecture hall in the splendid Rektorat building on the campus of the University of Montenegro in Podgorica. We had thought about having the event in Budva as one of the events of the annual Construction Fair there, but were (fortunately as it turned out) double-booked by the organisers. Ivana Vojinović, Deputy Minister in the Ministry for Sustainable Development and Tourism, opens the morning, and we then have Dr Consuelo Russelli of the German Sustainable Building Society (DGNB) followed by Daniel Fügenschuh the Austrian architect of the environmentally friendly building for the United Nations in Podgorica. Finally we have our own Branko Lukovac and Dušan Vuksanović together with Jelena Knezević, Adviser to the Minister for Sustainable Development and Tourism, and herself a former Deputy Minister for the Environment, all on the topic of the ‘Green Economy’. See www.gbc.me for more. About 70 people attend, including 3 ambassadors. All seem to think it went well, which is a great relief.

Among other events, on 13th Sep James finds a baby tortoise in the courtyard, far away from any source of food. He is clearly barely a week old, and so small that the cats would certainly ‘play’ with him (10gram, 3.5cm long, 3cm wide). We decide to take him into care, and find a suitable box, equip it with earth, some water and fresh greens. Karl settles in happily (our tortoises have names in more or less alphabetical order, and the two adults we have around the place are Henry and Jeremy). The next day there is another baby tortoise on the path, but sadly beyond resuscitation, so we bury it safely away from possible cat digging. Clearly there was a recent hatching, possibly from the female (Shelley – wouldn’t have been our name!) our neighbour found earlier in the summer. We give Karl daily, sometimes twice daily, walks. Walking a baby tortoise consists of one of us sitting watching him eat his way around the garden. Requires constant vigil as he can disappear from view very fast in the foliage and leaves – very good camouflage.

In between all of this, James’ renewed residence permit comes through. We had decided to temporarily import the car, giving it Montenegrin plates, and now that the new permit is through, we can start the process. Not unduly complicated, but we have to apply to the UK authorities for an export certificate, as the Montenegrin authorities won’t accept the UK registration document – insufficient proof that the vehicle has actually left UK control. This could take a month to arrive. We calculate that importation will be considerably cheaper than renewing the registration in UK, including the time and cost of driving back. It also will allow us to get a green card for an additional €20 which covers Bosnia, Albania, and Macedonia (as well as places such as Belarus which we are very unlikely to drive to, if even visit at all). This compares with the €75 we had to pay in temporary insurance at the borders to go to Skopje in March!

August 2011
We take a break, to some extent, from routine, and limit our time on house or Green Building Council matters. The whole country shuts down anyway, so no-one around to contact.

At the end of the month, we learn that the World GBC has approved our application for membership, and we are now classed as a Prospective Member. Also significant is that the World GBC is considering amending the subscription rates to help GBCs of smaller countries such as ours.

Also it is time to renew our residence visas. While we have most of the paperwork ready, the bureaucracy always finds something new it needs. We had been told that we now have to exit the country on the day the old permit expires and re-enter to get a new entry stamp.

July 2011
Returning from UK on 11 Jul, we both remark how lovely it is to be back in the warmth. The temperature had risen to the mid 20s at times in UK, which is of course warm for there, but barely tepid for us! We start swimming in the sea; a gentle 10 minute walk to the nearest bit of beach, 20 minutes or so in the water – great exercise – and a less gentle (uphill) walk home. There are definitely fewer tourists this year – not just in Goran’s apartments, but generally. The traffic is almost bearable in Kotor, instead of constant queues, and the general comment is that this is the worst tourist year for a long time. Not a good sign for the local economy which depends on these two months (July and August) to live off during the rest of the year.

We start to explore a different approach to the problem of getting planning permission. During a discussion with Dušan, he mentions the possibility of ‘reconstruction and enlargement’ as a way many people develop their plots. The discrepancy between the Cadastre, which clearly mentions the 51m2 object on our land, and the Urban Plan which does not, makes us ask the question as to which has the greater legal significance. No clear answer yet, but another point to make to the Minister if and when we find that an approach to the top of the bureaucracy is the only way forward.

We also take a major policy decision to limit the size of the building to only two main floors, and scrap the one devoted to a display area/ conference facility. This is mainly on cost grounds, as we don’t have to finish and heat/ cool the extra 70m2 or so. We will still need a place for the technical equipment (mainly the ventilation system), but this does not have to be part of any living area. Elisabeth obligingly produces a draft for the modified concept just before she goes on holiday at the end of the month.

As for the Green Building Council seminar, James’ thoughts about lack of action were fully accurate – nothing had been done during our absence. With the holiday season in full swing, nothing will be possible now until towards the end of August. We do at least set a date and decide on an outline programme. The World GBC meanwhile seems happy with our EoI which will be considered by its Board at the end of the month.

© all text and photographs, except where individually credited to other sources: James Collins