Law court has defended citizens and cancelled permission for skyscrapers on Pankrác
PRAGUE - 31 August 2011
The Prague Municipal Court has cancelled a planning permission for two skyscrapers Epoque on Prague Pancrác Plain. This decision means a fundamental turn in citizens' protests against the way of Pankrác's housing development. It is a crucial event in this eleven-year-long case that is also being closely observed by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The skyscrapers would damage the unique historical panorama of Prague. Company ECM, the one that wanted to build these buildings, has become insolvent recently. Nevertheless, the possibility that another developer could start building, was still threatening.
The law court has now confirmed the opinion of the civic societies: that authorities have given the permission illegally because the investor got round evaluation of building influence on the environment. And the involved officers have tolerated it. The cancellation of this permission can be an encouragement for further civic initiatives in the whole Czech Republic. Moreover, it is a warning for authorities, that they should strictly insist on abiding by the law and not going towards developers and investors in such cases, when people or environment could be harmed.
The head of "Civic Initiative of Pankrác", Marie Janoušková, commented on this decision as follows: "The judgments are very important. The first projects concerning a construction of skyscrapers appeared in 2000. Since then, we have been fighting for healthy life conditions of residents at Pankrác and Budějovická. Whereas all the authorities stick with the developers. Although the trial dragged on for about 3 years, we are very satisfied with the result. The court stood up for citizens and revealed the incorrect work of officers, who are obviously totally incompetent." The head of "Pankrác's Association", Zdeněk Holeček added: "Of course we are glad because our repeatedly submitted objections and protests have been found rightful. We hope that, under the influence of these judgements, the Municipal Authority of Prague 4 will change its approach to the submitted protests against buildings on Pankrác and Budějovická. And that they will reconsider the support they used to give to developers of high-rise buildings."
The case comes many years back now. At this moment, it is not sure who will buy the estates of the bankrupt ECM and whether he will go on enforcing the sky-scrapers-project. In any case, a permission for building has to be obtained anew. Marie Janoušková added: "I believe that authorities will decide about the future of Pankrác more responsibly now." Actually, some other - mainly administrative - buildings are being planned in this area.
„This decision is important not only for Pankrác but for the entire Czech Republic," says the lawyer Petr Kužvart from „Atelier for Environment". If it hadn't been for his many year's selfless work, the legal actions wouldn't the have succeeded. "The level of noise and air pollution in the Pankrác area is so high, that health limits given by law are permanently exceeded. In accordance with the law, each new building which attracts hundreds or thousands of cars or reduces vegetation, is illegal. However, authorities all over the republic often ignore this," explains Kužvart.
According to Kužvart, it is outrageous that neither the Department of Environment of the Prague Municipality, nor the Municipal Authority of Prague 4 or health officer, not even someone form the Ministry of Environment or of Health, defended the citizens during this trial. "Tens of thousands people live in unsuitable environment but authorities did not care for years. They preferred profit of private companies. The law court has confirmed that such behaviour has to be stopped," added Kužvart.
Martin Skalský from association Arnika thinks that the law court decision is important for the reputation of the Czech Republic abroad. "Building of skyscrapers might cause striking Prague off from the prestigious list of world heritage UNESCO. This might lead to an international scandal and tourist outflow. Now, wide public and expert discussion on a new appearance of Pankrác Plain (and Prague architecture in general) can be opened. We believe that new Prague leaders will use this opportunity for benefit of both tourists and Prague residents "
The cancellation of the planning permission for Pankrác skyscrapers is another victory of civic societies. Recently, they have achieved that permission for extension of north-south main highway was cancelled. In the case of highway, the investor was quicker and managed to build before the law court decided, whereas building of these skyscrapers is cancelled once for all.
What exactly did the Prague Municipal Court say?
- First of all, it confirmed that a skyscraper building is not a side issue and so has to go through a standard assessment of influence on the environment (process EIA). However, the authorities claimed that no assessment was necessary.
- It also clearly said that in an area with exceeded health limits no further building is possible. New buildings would have to contribute to the improvement of the environmental situation, they must not worsen it under any circumstances. As for Pankrác, the main problem is traffic (causing noise and emissions). Because the investor expected increase of individual transport, the authorities should have rejected the project immediately.
- Thirdly, the law court said that citizens have right to submit protests, even if they are not primarily related to the narrow topic of environment. Originally, the authorities did not want to admit this either.