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Letter to the UNESCO, 12 July, 2010

Dr. Mechtild Rössler

Chief, Europe and North America


UNESCO World Heritage Centre

7. Place de Fontenay

75352, Paris, 07SP

Dear Ms. Mechtild Rössler,

We thank you for your interest and your letter asking for further information.

The situation is as follows:
Yes, as you suspected the demolitions indicated in the letter are projected in the fifth district of the capital, in the central part of the Budapest City Centre, in the buffer zone of the Budapest World Heritage location, not far from the Danube. However, the demolition of the 11 buildings indicated in the form mentioned recently is out of question.

For the time being instead the following dangerous event is in progress:
Along Petőfi street – which is in the buffer zone, where even the other 11 buildings can be found – at the moment the demolition namely of five buildings is in preparation. Among them four neighbouring buildings have been evacuated, the district have already sold them to a real estate developer. This real estate developer intends to raise a new building on the four plots – after pulling down the ones mentioned above -- , a “City Centre in the city centre” which would be twice as tall as the existent ones: with a shopping mall on the lower stories, with offices on the higher ones and with a hotel at the top. All of this would be connected to the fifth building - separated from them by Bécsi street - with a bridge. The enormous measure of the building up at the top would be compensated by a roof garden. For the service of the functions of the building an underground parking lot with 100 spaces is also included. Due to this real estate development of brutal scale the new building will dominate the sight of Budapest from the traditional viewpoints, among others from Gellért Hill and the Buda Castle. Please find attached one of the articles about the project:

http://www.hg.hu/blog/9844-a-becsi-utcai-urhajo-latvanyte... Although it is in Hungarian, it contains the photos of the buildings destined to be pulled down and at the same time the plans for the new building. The street where all these interventions are planned was recently reconstructed within a European Union funded project under the title „The Main Street of the City Centre”.

The demolitions and the plans of the new building prepared by the British office Foster&Partners have been approved on the 30th June 2010 by the National Central Council of Projects.


Nevertheless, the demolition permit for the old buildings and the construction permit for the new one hasn't arrived yet. These must be issued by the fifth district authority. The mayor of the district has already declared several times how important this project was for them and so there isn't any doubt that these permits will be issued unless somebody or something intervenes.

Despite the crisis the inclination to pull down historic buildings and the longing for realizing gigantic projects in the Budapest City Centre and in its vicinity keep growing and the state together with the local authorities supports these projects. Nobody seems to consider renovating the existing buildings and the objectives in connection with protecting the World Heritage locations and their protected zones.

It seems to be ignored in the course of official discussions and critique of the plans that all this happens in a protected zone of the World Heritage site. They always consider individual buildings, whether they like them or not. Of course, every critic has his or her own taste. Thus politicians and entrepreneurs always try to prove that the building they want to pull down isn't that valuable at all. During the assessment of the projects the question of correlations of one particular street or the surroundings does not come up at all. The National Office of Cultural Heritage follows the same method, it doesn't bring its influence to bear on the protection of these special territories. Nor have we heard in the case of this new project that it would oppose the demolitions or the great dimensions of this new building.

And now I would like to write some particular words about the old Jewish quarter of Budapest and the situation related to it, which in our sight is still as alarming as it was before the visit of M. Michel Polge in 2007 and Your warning from Quebec in June 2008, and after
our report we sent to You in 2009 where we described the situation in detail. Since then nothing has changed. The hope of a solution within one year that we had on the basis of the account of the Hungarian State gave to the UNESCO surely isn't going to materialize very soon unless You intervene.

- The regulatory plan approved in September 2008 related among others to the old Jewish quarter of Budapest similarly to the precedent ones doesn't consider the character of the protected quarter and the interests of the protection. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations instituted an inquiry upon the request of the ÓVÁS! Association in connection with the plan. The Commissioner in the report of June 2009 proved that the plan is in more issues unlawful. It lacks for instance the investigation of the architectural value of the project and both the architectural impact study and that of heritage conservation. All the same, it is in force. Thus the permits are granted on the basis of the regulatory plan which despite being illegal is in force. The ÓVÁS! Association, after the plan hasn't been suspended nor for the suit of the Commissioner, together with many other non-governmental organizations in December 2009 turned to the Constitutional Court. Nevertheless, the decisions of the Constitutional Court generally take years.
- The Law of World Heritage wasn't introduced to the Parliament and thus the Parliament didn't discuss it. Since then there is a new government and a new parliament but for the present the subject hasn't come up yet. Anyhow, the bill (which was sent as well to the non-governmental organizations for review) was very poor and didn't help the protection of World heritage. The ÓVÁS! Association – together with other non-governmental organizations – couldn't accept it as the bill considered only the core zone of the protected territories and it didn't guarantee any protection for the buffer zones. The establishment of the Administering Organizations (Agencies) and the approval of the new plans according to the bill would take more than two years, after the act comes in operation which is comprehensible but the same bill didn't stipulate what is permitted and what is prohibited to do on the protected areas.

- In the regulatory plan the land use coefficient (gross area in m2 of floor/plot area) weren't reduced and the proportion of the obligatory green areas wasn't enlarged.
The land use coefficient remains always between 4, 5 and 6 while in the interior blocks and along the interior streets the value of the land use coefficient of the quarter is 2 or maximum 3. As there are many empty plots even without further full demolitions, the new buildings – if nothing changes – can completely transform the scale of the built environment of the quarter.
- Demolition and construction permits. Lately, the National Office of Cultural Heritage (KÖH) doesn't consent to the complete destruction in the quarter. Instead, it serially consent even in case of historic buildings to the complete pulling down of interior wings and to the construction of wings with 6-8 stories on the place of the interior wings with 3 or 4 stories. In these cases in the direction of the street remains only the façade of the original, protected building plus 6, in better case 12 metres (see the case of the buildings in Síp street beside the Dohány street synagogue, or the newest ones: 21 Dob street inside the protected zone or on the border of the protected zone 7, 9, 19 and 21 Klauzál street).
Due to the uninterrupted permits granted even in 2010 the traditional quadrangles, gardens, the beautiful staircases, etc. serially disappear - in short the entire interior world of the historical buildings vanishes from sight.
The other dangerous method: the authorization of the construction of two or even four stories on top of two-storey buildings. For instance, the KÖH has granted the construction of four new stories in the case of the two-stories edifice at number 41 Kazinczy Street (accompanied with the fusion of 3 plots), and assented to add two further stories to the two-stories historical building at 19 Dob street. So the proportions of building up change not only in the case of new buildings but they perfectly change even in the case of traditional, historical buildings. Both authorizations happened now, in 2010 and both involve buildings found inside the protected zone. The latter edifice is located on the part of the street which has still remained in its authentic unity but with the addition of these storeys all this will change, the same way as in 2009, when another part of the street has been spoiled (there with the fusion of 3 plots a 5-6 stories edifice has been built in a surrounding of 3 stories buildings, in such a way that a two-stories apartment house worthy of protection has been pulled down and the infants' nursery of the district has been deprived of its garden) together with many other streets.
- Henceforward we don't now, about any negotiations with the investors for the sake of the modification of the plans approved. There is a particular danger regarding the gigantic project authorised in the immediate surroundings of the 150 years old Dohány street synagogue. Due to the recession it has been suspended for two years but since it possesses a granted building permit the construction can begin any time.
- No bills have been introduced regarding the subsidiary system of renovating ancient buildings. To the question why all this happens we had the reply: “The Parliament wouldn't vote it, anyway.” This answer means that not even an attempt has been made to form the subsidiary system.


In Hungary this year the elections have been held and a new cabinet has been formed. In our opinion the institutes which were the official repositories of the protection don't function satisfyingly or they don't function at all and the non-governmental organizations have few opportunities. In this situation there is an increased need for international attention and control. We kindly ask You to urgently remind the new government of its duty regarding the World Heritage. On the basis of the aforementioned cases we believe that this warming is especially essential and urgent for the endangered condition of the values of World Heritage that can be found in Budapest.

12 July 2010, Budapest


Best Regards,

Anna Perczel

ÓVÁS! Association


As reference we send a copy of the letter above to:

- Ms. Regina Durighello, Wordl Heritage Program Director, ICOMOS

- Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Hungary at the UNESCO

- Secretariat of the Hungarian Wordl Heritage Comission

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