Yesterday in the afternoon, two hundred fifty people met in the Small Hall of the Congress Centre, in order to discuss environmental impacts of the Shopping and Social Centre Pankrác. Citizens associations expressed essential observations concerning the structure. Such observations were expressed also by certain departments of the Metropolitan Authority, and the city Public Health Officer. Both the author of the project and the environmental assessor were often unable to answer concrete questions. There were confirmed fears that the shopping centre would considerably contribute to increase of car traffic, and, thus, to the growing traffic crisis in the Prague centre. Further, nobody refuted that moving of people from certain residential houses is considered because of permanently deteriorating environment in Pankrác.
„We have devoted several months to preparation of observations to the study of environmental impacts,“ says ing. Marie Janoušková, chairwoman of Občanská iniciativa Pankráce (Citizens Initiative of Pankrác), who surprised the present people by a high-quality expert argumentation. „Generally, we embrace extension of shopping area and space for services. However, in view of the catastrophic traffic situation in Pankrác we insist on compliance with legal standards. Because of that, we have proposed a number of concrete conditions concerning the structure. Now, we are waiting to see which of them the Prague Metropolitan Authority takes over into its official opinion within the framework of the process of environmental impact assessment,“ added Janoušková. The opinion should be prepared within two months. All state authorities who will issue statements and various permits in the case of the shopping centre project will then use it as a basis for their decision-making.
Lawyer of the ARNIKA Association, Mgr. Ondřej Tošner, criticised especially the fact that proceedings on planning permission concerning the traffic solution of the Pankrác plain are under way at the present time. „Thus, results of environmental impact assessment will not be reflected in decision-;making concerning the traffic solution. This is a confusion, the proceedings should have proceeded in the reverse order,“ said Tošner. He added that some town planning study was drawn up by the company Spojprojekt as a basis for preparation of the expert opinion on environmental impacts of the shopping centre. However, nobody knows the study. „We have tried to get it from all authorities, however, they don't know anything about the study. We have not succeeded to obtain it even from Spojprojekt. Although it is an important basic material, neither the public nor the corresponding experts has had a change to get acquainted with it.“
The high number of inhabitants present in the hall proved that the public is interested in the issue of development of the Pankrác plain. A fault of the public discussion was a low will of the planner, investor, as well as the invited experts, to answer concrete questions. Some contributions of the experts lasted even tens of minutes, and so the hall became almost empty after approximately three hours. Practically the only people who came in order to support construction of the shopping centre remained there. Then, applause was heard in the hall after each speech of the investor, and the discussion resembled a farce. Shortly before midnight, the topic of the discussion was exhausted, and the remaining participants went home.
How the public discussion about the shopping centre proceeded:
At about five o'clock in the afternoon, the majority of places in the Small Hall of the Congress Centre Prague was filled up already. Near the entrance, the coming inhabitants could see a three-dimensional model of Pankrác plain with the two projected shopping centres. One of them should be constructed in the place of the present market hall (by the German company ECE), the second should replace the bus station which is not functional these days (ÚAN Florenc intends to construct it). Colour leaflets with computer simulations of the future shopping centre, and ballpoint pens with the logo of ECE, are available. Those present may see photographs of foreign shopping centres alternated by shots of dismal places of Pankrác on two projection panels, with pleasant background music.
Shortly after five o'clock, the discussion about the environmental impacts is started by ing. Ivana Žáková from the Department of the Environment of the Prague Metropolitan Authority. She explains that the discussion will be divided into three blocks - traffic, air, and vegetation. Subsequently, she gives the floor to ing. Václav Obluk, who prepared the expert opinion on impacts of the Shopping Centre Pankrác. In his speech lasting almost half an hour, Obluk refused practically all objections of the citizens associations. For example, he comments the expected increase of traffic, and noise and emissions connected therewith, by the following words: „Admittedly, people will smell the bad smell caused by cars, but bad smell is a subjective feeling perceived differently by each person. Feelings do not impair state of health of local inhabitants ... Admittedly, legal limit of noise is being exceeded in several places these days already, but not by much. It is not much important what people hear during daytime, this is below the perception threshold. Especially noise during night hours is important for the local inhabitants, in order that they could sleep well.“
Conclusions of the assessor were questioned by representative of the city Public Health Station, MUDr. Polanecká. She drew attention to the necessity of making measures against noise and emissions from car traffic, which would increase after putting of the ECE shopping centre into operation. Legal limits are being exceeded these days already. The Public Health Officer even proposed to move people from some residential houses, because exceeding of the limits could be hardly compensated. Representative of the capital city, ing. arch. Petr Durdík, also drew attention to problems with cars and to unsolved traffic servicing of the new structure. He said: „The capital city insists on its reservations. The proposed traffic solution is not good for the city, because it increases traffic on roads which are overloaded these days already“.
After that, the floor was given to representatives of citizens' associations. „In Pankrác, construction of the biggest car park in the Czech Republic is in preparation,“ said the chairwoman of the association Občané postižení severojižní magistrálou (Inhabitants Affected by the North-south Trunk Road), Alžběta Rejchrtová. „The local people do not need such big centre. Because it will be a shopping centre closest to the centre of the city, it will attract a huge number of cars. Unfortunately, people are not used to travel by means of public transport to similar centres.“ Subsequently, a representative of Občanská iniciativa Pankráce, Vít Janoušek, said that the intention is feasible, but it is necessary to comply with legal limits. Then he read a list of conditions proposed by the local association for the structure. „We visited the shopping centre of the company ECE in Berlin. It is better designed than the Prague one. The structure includes an underground car park, not an over-ground one, and part of it is made up of flats,“ said Janoušek. Observations to traffic solution and use of the territory of the Pankrác plain were then given also by Mgr. Ondřej Tošner from ARNIKA Association. According to reactions triggered by the contributions, it seemed that arguments of the citizens associations had a considerable support in the hall, although the numbers of backers and critics of the shopping centre were approximately balanced.
Only three hours after the beginning, floor was given to people in the hall. After three questions were answered, ing. Žáková made a break. The fact that floor to ordinary inhabitants was given later than at eight o'clock only discouraged the majority of those present, and, during the break, the hall became almost empty. The crushing majority of those who remained supported the project of the shopping centre in their contributions, and they were applauding after each speech of the investor or the planners. The discussion then further continued for almost four hours, but it sometimes resembled a staged theatre. Although representatives of the citizens associations kept asking further concrete questions, they mostly did not get clear answers. Less than half an hour before midnight the topic was exhausted, and the discussion was concluded.