As requested by the Committee at its 29th session (Durban, 2005), the State Party provided a report dated 24 January 2007 on the state of conservation of the Historic Centre of Riga including the progress made with regard to the implementation of the Committee’s decision.
In September 2005, after a series of revisions requested by the State Inspection, the Riga City Council City Development Department introduced to the public the third draft of the Preservation and Development Plan of the Historic Centre of Riga (and its buffer zone). The Inspection approved the Plan with some provisions to be implemented, in particular, on the setting of the location of high rise buildings in the buffer zone in order to maintain the visual integrity of the Historic Centre. On 7 February 2006 the Riga City Council adopted the Preservation and Development Plan and the Building Regulations for the Historic Centre of Riga and its buffer zone. The Inspection adopted the Plan with the condition that a “Conception Project” on the development of the left bank of the river Daugava be developed.
The Riga City Council City Development Department and the Bureau of the Riga City Architect subsequently completed the requested Conception Project, defined as the regulatory document for urban development on the left bank of the river Daugava and containing the plan that determines the construction height permitted in the buffer zone. The Conception Project mentioned that proposals will be prepared for amendments to the already adopted (2004) Regulations No. 127 of the Cabinet of Ministers, which limits the height of the high-rise buildings in the buffer zone on the left bank of the river Daugava to 121 metres, in order to allow the construction of even higher buildings. It should be noted that this Conception Project does not concern already planned construction projects, accepted preliminary or technical projects, or architectural design competitions where the winner has been designated. The State Inspection has not approved the Conception Project, arguing that in Riga historically the churches were the main vertical accents and that without appropriate maximum height limitations, the Historic Centre of Riga could be surrounded by high-rise buildings diminishing the character of the property.
The State Party report also contains visual impact studies carried out in 2006 by the State Inspection on the impact of planned high-rise buildings in the buffer zone on the Historic Centre of Riga, and concluded that there is a need for specific law provision for the height limitations. In July 2006, after the Committee session, on invitation of the National Authorities, the Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre undertook a brief visit to Riga to discuss with the authorities the plan for the demolition of a 1980s skyscraper building located in Republikas Square 2 (northern buffer zone) in the framework of the Law on the Protection of Cultural monuments (1992), allowing for assigning the status of “environment degrading object” to such a building. However, the final decision on this matter will be taken after further discussions with relevant experts and after an International Seminar scheduled from 16 to 17 April 2007. During the site visit, the Director expressed his concerns regarding the high-rise development projects inside and outside the buffer zone.
In November 2006, a Latvian delegation composed of the Chief Architect of Riga, Head of the State Inspection for Heritage Protection and Secretary General of the Latvian National Commission for UNESCO came to the World Heritage Centre. The delegation informed the Centre about the revised concepts of the silhouette development of the left side of the river Daugava. While appreciating the initiative, the World Heritage Centre expressed its serious concern about inappropriate urban development in the buffer zone of the Historic Centre and stressed that the proposed high-rise buildings in the buffer zone would not be the best possible solution for the area of Ķīpsala and could seriously endanger the status of the Historic Centre of Riga as a World Heritage property. Despite the quality of the analysis presented, and appropriate planning tools used (i.e. skyline studies; viewpoint analysis; historic character analysis and mapping per protected neighbourhood), these planning tools seem to be applied only to justify proposed plans for high-rise constructions, notably in the buffer zone, instead of being used to determine appropriate location, type and form of development.
On the other hand, the results of the Riga Concert Hall competition, judged by a jury with the participation of a UNESCO-ICOMOS expert, are to be commended.
The State Party report further mentioned that the legal enactments and the new Preservation and Development Plan provide for examination of all projects in the Historic Centre of Riga and its buffer zone. These measures are to ensure that all new buildings fully respect the visual integrity of the Historic Centre of Riga that the historical water courses are preserved as open public spaces, and that no new constructions are built. In addition, a regional seminar and workshop on “High-rise Buildings and Historic Centre (in the Baltic Countries)” was organised by the World Heritage Centre and ICCROM from 7 to 8 December 2006 in Vilnius, Lithuania, and was attended by a representative of the Latvian State Inspection.
Furthermore, the State Inspection for Heritage protection of Latvia organized an international seminar on the Preservation and Development of Historic centers of towns (16 -17 April 2007, Riga) attended by local and international experts including representatives from the Council of Europe and UNESCO. The outcome of the seminar and the site visits stressed that utmost attention should be given to the continuity between the city’s silhouette, the river Daugava and its two banks. The value of Riga as a World Heritage property lies in the relationship between these elements. In order to preserve the visual integrity of this exceptional urban landscape, it is absolutely necessary to opt for an integrated approach to any urban development projects for the city based on these values and a clear vision for the city’s future. In that regard, the seminar concluded that high rise buildings are incompatible for the property (core, buffer zone and beyond) and thus the ongoing high rise projects and constructions on the left bank of the river threaten the values of the property.
In a letter dated 12 April 2007, the State Inspection for heritage protection informed the World Heritage Centre of the latest visualization of the revised concept project for the proposed development of the left side of the river Daugava and requests UNESCO’s assistance to evaluate this document.
Whilst the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS appreciate the updated information received, they remain extremely concerned that the previous Decisions of the Committee concerning high-rise development on the left bank of the river Daugava have not been taken into account by the State Party.