UNESCO requests height reduction of skyscrapers at the Pankrác Plain
Prague - 13 August 2008
The high-rises planned to be built at the Pankrác Plain have to be lower. This is the long awaited verdict of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The current projects are unacceptable since they would damage one of the best preserved skylines of European urban historical landscapes. The world organization’s decision has been welcomed by the civic associations. „UNESCO set the height at 60 - 70 m. This corresponds with the opinion we have been upholding. The current projects should be rejected and the completion of construction at the Pankrác Plain reconsidered,“ said Martin Skalský of Arnika.
“The UNESCO Committee’s decisions are legally binding for the Czech Republic which is obliged to comply with them. If this will not happen the Committee might put Prague on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its next session”, added Skalský. According to him this would have a catastrophic impact on tourism in Prague since a great majority of wealthier tourists choose their travel destination according to the catalogue of world monuments and sites.
The planning approvals on two new high-rises were issued recently by the Municipal District of Prague 4 despite the public’s protests. Following the civic associations’ appeal the approvals are being dealt with by the City Hall. “Both decisions should be cancelled. The World Heritage Committee has sent out an unambiguous message that the height of the proposed buildings must be reduced. The Czech Republic cannot ignore the voice of the world organization to which it is bound by an international convention and cannot risk losing its prestige.” According to him following the cancellation of the planning permits the developer should come up with entirely new projects.
The Committee voiced “serious concern” over the planned construction of high-rise buildings in immediate proximity of Prague’s historical centre already last year. However, the City Hall and the Czech Ministry of Culture downplayed the warning signs. The Chief Director of the Ministry’s Foreign Section, Zdeněk Novák even issued a press statement in June saying that at its recent session UNESCO praised Prague for its exemplary conservation of monuments. However the message of this world organization is quite different: Prague has got a problem and must solve it.
In its decision the World Heritage Committee lays down eight requirements for the Czech State Party, their fulfilment will be checked every year. One of them is to reduce the height of high-rises to a maximum of 60 – 70 m. Then the Committee requests the strengthening of the authority of The National Institute for the Protection and Conservation of Heritage and Sites in approval proceedings on planning and construction, adopting of a comprehensive conservation plan for the historic centre and drafting of the management plan of the property. The World Heritage Committee wishes to be informed about other projects which might disturb the historical city’s skyline.
The civic associations intend to appeal again to the Culture Ministry, City Hall and Town Hall of Prague 4 to reassess the projects. “Our concerns have been confirmed. The new skyscrapers would have a negative impact on the historical core of the city. We expect the politicians to look for ways of how to avert the danger,” said Marie Janoušková of the Pankrác Citizens’ Initiative. According to her it is deplorable that since the very beginning the approval proceedings have been taking place behind UNESCO’s back. However, there is still time to avert the threat, she said.
The construction of the two Epoque high-rise buildings was approved last year by the Ministry of Culture. The Ministry’s decision is now being reviewed by the court since the civic associations filed a complaint against it.
The World Heritage Committee’s decision will take effect upon its delivery to the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic via diplomatic mail. This is expected to happen in early September.
1) Final report of 32th session of World Heritage Committee UNESCO, organized at the beginning of July in Quebec, Canada, is available (pages 105 – 108 of document No. WHC.08/32.COM/7B.Add are related to Prague Heritage Zone) HERE.
2) Report of Czech envoy in permanent mission of Czech Republic in UNESCO Petr Janyška on last UNESCO session in Quebec is available HERE.
3) Part of final report, related to Prague:
86. Historic Centre of Prague (Czech Republic) (C 616)
Year of inscription on the World Heritage List
(ii) (iv) (vi)
Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger
Previous Committee Decisions
31 COM 7B.94
Total amount provided to the property: Emergency Assistance (USD 50,000) in 2003 (floods).
State of conservation of World Heritage properties WHC-08/32.COM/7B.Add, p. 103 inscribed on the World Heritage List
UNESCO extra-budgetary funds
Previous monitoring missions
27 February – 2 March 2008 : World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission Main threats identified in previous reports
Current conservation issues
The State Party’s report of 1 February 2008 responds to the issues highlighted in the World Heritage Committee’s Decision 31 COM 7B.94, and also provides a comprehensive overview of the history and present status of approaches to the conservation and management of the Historic Centre of Prague.
This overview includes detailed information on current monument care issues identified by state authorities (including basic characteristics and information regarding the property; legislation, urban planning and the management of the protection of the City’s Monument Fund; monument care issues in the Historic Centre of Prague and its buffer zone; city population and environment; institutional cooperation in protecting monuments), and a detailed description of all larger restoration works, changes and new buildings within the preserved area in accordance with paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, for the period 2004 -2007 (including financial support as well as restorations, renovations, new buildings and planned constructions implemented or in progress). This overview also contains annexes including a study on the visual integrity of the Historic Centre of Prague, a conceptual framework for more efficient conservation, analysis of the urban development project for the Pankrác Plain and impacts on the outstanding universal value and visual integrity, as well as maps of large development areas, analysis of constructions in terms of proportions, capacities and scale against the “historic dominants in the skyline of the Historic Centre of Prague, and comparative photographs. This report is an exemplary model of its kind and the State Party should be commended for the great attention to detail within it.
The State Party report also provided a basis for the joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS mission to the World Heritage property requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session, which was carried out from 27 February to 2 March 2008.
The mission acknowledged the progress made by the authorities involved with the property, noting that the City of Prague has been able to manage successfully an important restoration and conservation programme and that significant improvements have been brought about in the overall legislative, planning and management system related to urban conservation.
The mission specifically covered the issues raised by the World Heritage Committee, in particular the proposal for new high-rise building projects within the Pankrác Plain, and their potential impact on the visual integrity of the Historic Centre of Prague.
Concerning the development of high rise constructions on the Pankrác plain, the State Party report pointed out that this area has long been treated as a “future citywide centre” and that this concept was indicated in the “draft development plan of the City of Prague, confirmed by the comprehensive approval issued by the Prague City Council as of 31.10.1996”. The development plan envisaged development of local and city-wide municipal facilities “to increase the attractiveness of the area and to facilitate reducing the concentration of city-wide functions in the Historic Centre of Prague.” The State Party report notes that the three constructions to date were built in conformity with the development vision of the City at the time, and concerning the present proposal (2004), it notes:
State of conservation of World Heritage properties WHC-08/32.COM/7B.Add, p. 104 inscribed on the World Heritage List
“The presented conception of Pankrác Plain with two high-rise buildings, apartment house and a hotel is in compliance with the applicable development plan of the City of Prague and with the status of the Prague city heritage site. The lot lies outside the area where the Development Plan restricts construction of high-rise buildings.”
Concerning this proposal, the mission takes a more cautious attitude about perpetuating existing negative visual impacts. Its concluded that the solutions to be adopted should at least not extend the visual intrusion on what would be – otherwise – “one of the best preserved European urban historic landscapes”. The mission recommended limiting the height of the new high-rise constructions to a maximum of 60-70 m, to limit the visual impacts on the historic urban landscape of the World Heritage property. This height level has been proposed to mediate between the height of the tallest existing buildings (100 m) and the height of the existing commercial centre (about 35 m). This would require reduction of the height of the two new proposed buildings, planned originally to be 80 m and 104 m. The mission suggested that this height reduction would maintain the viability of the investment, while reducing significantly the visual negative impact on the historic landscape.
The mission also looked into the adequacy of existing planning measures in the face of the ever increasing development pressures confronting the city, now attracting 4 million tourists a year. It has made a number of strategic recommendations, developed in consultations with the State Party aimed to streamline processes and to strengthen the management of the World Heritage property.
• Strengthening the current “advisory” role of the National Heritage Institute so that its views are given more authority and can help orient the main decisions affecting the integrity of the Historic Centre of Prague;
• Clarifying and integrating the rules presently in force to manage development processes such as infill, reconstruction, rehabilitation and conservation by introduction of a unitary code to strengthen the integrity of the original fabric of the city;
• Completing and formally adopting the conservation plan for the historic centre (a set of conservation guidelines are already informally in use) in order to provide an effective zoning and planning tool in the historic centre;
• Completing the management plan of the property within the year 2008. The management plan is a comprehensive tool for the coordination of the different regulatory and policy frameworks existing or foreseen for the historic centre, and for strengthening scope and implementation of zoning.
Draft Decision: 32 COM 7B.86
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Document WHC-08/32.COM/7B.Add;
2. Recalling Decision 31 COM 7B.94, adopted at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007);
3. Acknowledges the ongoing improvements of the overall legislative, planning and management system for urban conservation;
4. Requests the State Party to improve the effectiveness of its existing planning, management and conservation measures for the property, as recommended by the joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS mission, by:
State of conservation of World Heritage properties WHC-08/32.COM/7B.Add, p. 105 inscribed on the World Heritage List
a) Strengthening the authority of the National Heritage Institute to enable it to orient the main decisions affecting the integrity of the Historic Centre;
b) Clarifying and integrating the rules presently in force to manage processes such as infill, reconstruction, rehabilitation and conservation in a unitary code to improve the ability of the responsible authorities to maintain the integrity of the original fabric of the city;
c) Urgently completing and approving the conservation plan for the Historic Centre in order to provide an effective zoning and planning tool for the conservation process in the Historic Centre;
d) Completing the management plan of the property within the year 2008 as a comprehensive tool for the coordination of all the different regulatory and policy frameworks existing or foreseen for the Historic Centre, for eventual review by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies;
5. Encourages the State Party to adopt the following measures proposed by the joint World Heritage centre / ICOMOS mission to reduce further negative impacts of high rise construction in the property and its buffer zone:
a) Complete and adopt the high-rise limitations plan, in order to avoid possible visual intrusion into the historic urban landscape of Prague;
b) Conduct an evaluation of the present buffer zones of the Historic Centre in order to assess their effectiveness in protecting the visual integrity of the city and, if needed, extend these and adopt appropriate related zoning regulations;
c) Limit, in the case of the Pankrác Plain, the height of the new high-rise constructions to a maximum of 60-70 m, in order to avoid visual impacts on the historic urban landscape of the property;
d) Inform the World Heritage Centre, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, of any project that could affect the visual integrity of the World Heritage site;
6. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2009, a detailed report on the state of conservation of the property, including progress reports on efforts to address the measures proposed above, and in particular concerning the recommendation to curtail heights of planned high rise structures in the Pankrác Plain, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session in 2009.