St. Petersburg Denies
That UNESCO Criticized It

Sadly, the once beautiful and historic skyline is changing due to the demands of rich and powerful developers and corrupt officials

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City Hall has dismissed the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s criticism of the treatment of St. Petersburg’s historic center as having nothing to do with either City Governor Valentina Matviyenko or the city administration, and demanded that two Russian publications run corrections.

In a statement published on its web site Friday, City Hall’s Heritage Protection Committee (KGIOP) criticized the Moscow-based news agency Regnum for stating that the World Heritage Committee is gravely concerned by Matviyenko’s planning policy. It also censured local daily newspaper Sankt-Peterburgskiye Vedomosti’s use of the word “city” [City Hall] when writing about the assessment.

Dismissing the published information as “false” and “biased,” the KGIOP said there “was not — and could not be — any critical remark” about the St. Petersburg authorities in the committee’s findings, because according to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, preservation of world heritage sites such as the historic center of St. Petersburg is the responsibility of the state that signed the convention, rather than the city on whose territory the world heritage site is located.

According to KGIOP’s statement, the city of St. Petersburg has no authority regarding the world heritage site known officially as the Historic Center of St. Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments, and acts on the orders of the federal government, Russian’s UNESCO Commission and the Culture Ministry.

In a resolution regarding St. Petersburg adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session held in Paris between June 19 and 29, the committee said that it “deeply regrets” that the Russian Federation did not submit a state of conservation report or any boundary modification/clarification as requested by the World Heritage Committee, and that it did not address the World Heritage Committee’s request to extend the buffer zone of the heritage site.

Published Friday, the resolution also “expresses its grave concern” that the need to provide an overarching management framework for the site has not been addressed as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session last year.

The committee also lamented that official confirmation of the revision and change of location of Gazprom’s Okhta Center skyscraper project had not been provided to the committee, and requested that the new project proposal, as well as any new project within the site or any project that would have a potential visual impact on the site, should entail a Heritage Impact Assessment.

According to the resolution, City Hall did not submit a revised draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value as requested by the World Heritage Committee.

The committee has now requested that the St. Petersburg authorities submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the site by February 1, 2012 for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session in 2012.

Matviyenko and City Hall have been criticized by preservationists and concerned residents for the continuing demolition of historic buildings in the center of St. Petersburg, and for the original Gazprom skyscraper project, which many feared would ruin the city’s protected skyline.

According to the Living City preservation group, more than 100 historic buildings have been demolished to make way for business centers, shopping malls and elite residential buildings since Matviyenko took office in 2003.

The 36th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will be held in St. Petersburg, Russia’s permanent mission to UNESCO reported late last month.

“This important decision is recognition of our achievements in the preservation of historical heritage,” Matviyenko was quoted as saying on City Hall’s web site.

Source & Copyright: The St. Petersburg Times
14 July, 2011