On 8 January 2010 a report on the state of conservation of the Historic Centre of Prague was submitted by the State Party as well as two letters on high-rise developments and the restoration of the Charles Bridge. The report directly addressed the issues of Decision 33 COM 7B.96 adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session (Seville, 2009). An amendment to the report comprising a joint evaluation of the impact of the Blanka Tunnel Complex by the Municipal Department of Culture, Monument Care and Tourism, and the National Heritage Institute, Regional Specialised Department in Prague was submitted dated 24 February 2010. A joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission visited the Historic Centre of Prague from 26 to 29 January 2010.
Information provided by the State Party:
a) Potential impact of the Blanka Tunnel Complex on the property.
Construction of the inner city traffic circuit began in the 1980s, before the Historic Centre of Prague was inscribed on the World Heritage List. The need for tunnels was established in the 1990s, when three possible routes were considered in the light of all attendant issues, and in consultation with all relevant and statutory bodies. The Blanka tunnel proposal was assessed as being the best solution to coping with the negative impacts of transit traffic on the Historic Centre of Prague. The history of the urban ring project in Prague is also detailed.
Only 800 metres of the inner city traffic circuit falls within the boundaries of the World Heritage property. This passes beneath the Baroque fortifications at the north-west. The rest is mainly (90%) in the buffer zone as shown on the map (Appendix 1) of the State Party’s report. It is noted that the Baroque fortification will be restored as part of the road works (Appendix no. 3 of the State Party’s report).
b) Reactive monitoring mission to investigate the Blanka tunnel and new traffic proposals, changes to Wenceslas Square, the possible creation of Prague’s “Museum Mile” and the issue of historic railway stations
The State Party reported that the mission had been invited and in the meantime provided the following information:
i) New traffic proposals: It is proposed to divert the North-East Expressway section of the ‘Eastern Highway’ in the Historic Centre through a tunnel behind the National Museum. This will enable the reuniting of the National Museum with Wenceslas Square. The intention is to correct the 1970s’ introduction of a main north-south traffic artery (the ‘Eastern Highway’ with its expressway sections) through the Historic Centre, which created an undesirable traffic situation in the World Heritage property.
ii) Changes to Wenceslas Square: It is proposed to return Wenceslas Square to its historic function of a boulevard with tram transport in accordance with the 2005 winning competition design for the Square. This depends on modifications to the expressway sections of the ‘Eastern Highway’, which diverges around the National Museum.
iii) Proposed creation of Prague’s “Museum Mile”: The aim of this project is to connect museums in neighbouring locations into a common visitor route, including the proposed Railway Museum in the former engine depot at Marsaryk Station (locations are shown on the map-Appendix 4). The former Federal Assembly building has been assigned to the National Museum across Vinohradska Avenue to accommodate additional visitor facilities, and it is proposed to link these with an under-road corridor. It is also proposed to erect a modern exhibition building in the neighbourhood of the City of Prague Museum at Florenc (which is a national monument).
iv) Historic Railway Stations: A number of (redundant) Historic Railway Stations are proposed for re-use combined with redevelopment of adjacent land.
v) Restoration of Charles Bridge: Objections to the work currently underway to conserve the Charles Bridge have been countered by the opinion of Czech ICOMOS, which the State Party attached to its report.
vi) Height controls: The State Party has included a map (Appendix 4) showing the boundaries within which building heights are restricted. This surrounds the inscribed property but does not include all the areas shown as Heritage Zones within the area labelled as the buffer zone. It encompasses an area considerably less than that of the labelled buffer zone, which is in turn less than the inscribed buffer zone shown on the World Heritage Inventory map (#09, cz-616-inv)..
vii) Overall conservation of the property: The State Party has provided information on a large number of projects currently underway including “larger restoration works, changes and new buildings within the preserved area”, noting the use of the digitised 19th Century Langweil model of the city to guide restoration and infill works.
Conclusions by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, as informed by the January 2010 joint monitoring mission:
a) The Blanka Tunnel and Baroque fortifications (response to a) above)
No objection is raised to the construction of the Blanka Tunnel in the context of the city’s transportation strategy for Prague provided that:
- The north-west link road is not built before the completion of the Prague Ring;
- The ‘Eastern Highway’ is physically downgraded as soon as the Blanka Tunnel section of the City Ring provides an alternative route; otherwise the overall volume of traffic will simply increase, leading to the perpetuation of the present severance of the World Heritage property from its context, and the poor street environment and setting of key buildings within it;
- The proposed tunnel behind the National Museum is not constructed (see point b)(i) above) as this would encourage, rather than discourage, through traffic;
- The expressway sections of the Eastern Highway are removed from the eastern edge of the World Heritage property, with a return to city streets ‘at grade’;
- Policy regarding on-site parking for developments and public car parking within the World Heritage property is reviewed, to minimise both the growth of demand for vehicles to access the area, and adverse impacts on the integrity of the fabric of the historic city.
The repair and restoration of the Baroque fortifications is welcomed but the reinstated areas in front of them should be appropriate to their historic character and configuration.
b) New traffic proposals around Wenceslas Square (response to b) (i) and (ii) above)
The proposals for Wenceslas Square are considered potentially beneficial but depend on parking provision within the historic centre being discouraged as far as possible, and the physical downgrading of the ‘Eastern Highway’.
c) The Museum Mile proposal (response to b) (iii) above)
The concept of the “Museum Mile” is considered beneficial but the success of the concept depends fundamentally on physically downgrading the ‘Eastern Highway’.
d) Historic Railway Stations (response to b) (iv) above)
- Development proposals for Maseryk Station should consider its historic role and seek to retain links, physically and conceptually, with the railway network, via the railway museum;
- The current proposal for Vysehrad Station shown in the concept plan and visualisation on p.15 of the 2010 mission report indicates that the proposed flanking buildings are too high in relation to the historic station building. In general they should not exceed the height of the roof ridge of the side wings of the historic building in order to achieve compositional harmony.
- The historic concourse of Central Station should be reconnected with the city through the downgrading of the ‘Eastern Highway’;
- Development of and around Zizkov Station should preserve, and enhance, the skyline of Prague. However it is essential that the World Heritage Centre be kept informed about emerging development proposals.
e) Charles Bridge (response to b) (v) above)
While the initial work was inappropriate the current approach is greatly improved. Future work should be based on adequate documentation, appropriate standards and techniques, and subject to regular monitoring.
f) Height controls (response to b) (vi) above)
It was noted by the January 2010 joint mission that the specific recommendation of the 2008 mission concerning new buildings on the Pankrac Plain not to exceed 60 to 70m in height, and the request by the Committee to that effect, has not so far been implemented. The high-rise limitations plan should be completed and adopted in accordance with the request by the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee and the 2008 mission, in order to avoid possible further visual intrusion in the historic urban landscape of Prague.
g) Overall conservation of the property (response to b) (vii) above)
In addition to the information in the State Party’s report, the January 2010 joint monitoring mission provided information on a large development project near Wenceslas Square and the development flanking Vysehrad Station as indicative of the approach taken by developers within the World Heritage property. The former project involves enclosing the former riding house of the Baroque Savarin Palace within the atrium of the development, which spans across a complete block. Given that the Draft Management Plan 2009/2 (map no. 15) indicates at least eight localities within the World Heritage property where “a structure with a major impact on the Historic Centre of Prague is intended” and several others that either have planning permission or are under study for potential development, this is a matter for concern.
h) World Heritage property boundary and buffer zone
The 2010 mission report recommends that Pruhonice Park should be integrated into the overall coordination, management and presentation of the World Heritage property and suggests that the buffer zone should be extended to surround Pruhonice Park.
The State Party transmitted two letters with detailed comments on the mission report both dated 27 April 2010, and noted in particular that: (a) The mission covered more issues than foreseen, (b) that the mission was not proposed to look at buffer zones of the property and the component of Pruhonice Park, (c) welcomed the conclusions on the transport strategy but stated that a reduction of the 4-lanes highway was not realistic and that concerning the parking policy in the historic centre has been already taken into account; (d) on development projects of the railway stations that further studies need to be undertaken (e) on the Charles Bridge that the monitoring has been carried out; (f) that concerning the Museums Mile it is already a successful concept without traffic reductions; (g) and considers the rehabilitation of the Historic Centre a success and (h) and concludes that the recommendations of 2008 for new buildings at Pankrac Plain should not exceed 60-70m would be respected.” Further information was then provided on 30 April 2010 on the restoration of the Charles Bridge. Clarifications on the boundaries were provided by letter from the national authorities dated 10 May 2010 as a follow-up to a meeting which took place at the World Heritage Centre on 14 April 2010.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies have taken note of the comments by the Czech authorities and underline that a constructive dialogue on all issues covered in the mission report has taken place during the mission and in follow-up exchanges. Concerning the issue of the buffer zone, which was included as a follow-up to the 2008 mission, it is noted that any changes to the delimitations of the World Heritage property and its buffer zone would have to be officially submitted by the State Party.