At its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), in response to information about development projects within and in the vicinity of the property, including in neighbouring Slovakia, the World Heritage Committee urged the State Party to provide as soon as possible full details of a proposed energy plant in the buffer zone, and of the proposed heritage impact assessment, in order to evaluate the potential impact of the plant, and also encouraged the State Party to collaborate with Slovakia over a possible transboundary extension, as requested by its 26th session (Budapest, 2002). Concerns had been raised about a pumping energy storage power plant in the buffer zone of the World Heritage property in the Zemplen Mountains, a coal-fired power plant in Slovakia about 20km from the property and a power plant in Szerencs.
In its 2008 report, the State Party had already covered the first two plants. On 1 February 2009, a report on the state of conservation of the World Heritage properties was submitted by the State Party which provides a response to most of the remaining issues.
a) Details of the proposed power-plant in the buffer zone
The planned power plant would be located on 6.5 ha of land in the Eastern Industrial Park of Szerencs, an area designated for industry in the plan. Its precise location is not provided in the report. It would generate electricity from primary agricultural products and by-products such as straw, rice straw, corn and sunflower stalks). Annual consumption would be 250,000 tons per year (the output of approximately 70,000 ha of agricultural land). Supplying the plant would generate significant increase in traffic through the property.. It is noted that plant is unusually large even by international standards. The plan is supported by many people on the basis that it would provide economic development but is opposed by others for its perceived impact on the property and its wider environment. It has divided opinions amongst local authorities formally loyal to the aspirations of the property. There is strong pressure to demonstrate in an explicit way how ‘the area’s responsibility for preserving its values and its opportunities for development can be harmonized with one another’.
The developers have valid construction permits. However in response to public opinion and awaiting the results of the impact assessment, the developers have suspended construction;
b) Details of the proposed heritage impact assessment of the power-plant
A comprehensive impact assessment, under constant independent expert supervision, was completed in December of 2008. The State Party report provides a summary of the main findings in relation to emissions, traffic and visual impact, as well as in regards to two further aspects that were brought to light through the impact assessment – public health and changes in the ground cover.
Emissions: The impact assessment has indicated that the possible impact of the plant – indirect in certain cases – was not fully measured and taken into account by the official licensing procedures, although the required technical studies were undertaken. Studies of further direct and indirect impacts should have been undertaken and a wider area of impact considered, including effects on traffic, the region, and the cultural landscape.
Traffic: The planned deliveries of straw indicated in the licensing documentation would occur from 8 collection area units between 8 and 98 km away from the power plant on public highways. At the entrance into Tokaj on Highway 38, this could mean additional daily traffic of 107 trucks. This has to be set into the context that traffic in the property has significantly increased in recent years, and at several points has reached a critical amount (such as through the city of Tokaj). The impact assessment considered that the full impact could not be determined with the available information and called for a more detailed logistical plan.
Visual impact: The reduction of the visual impact of the power plant on the landscape of the property through the creation of “micro-relief features” and a sheltering forest, as well as the lowering of the blocks below ground – using the current building plans as a base – was considered to be the maximum achievable. However, even with the planting of mature plants the beneficial screening impact could only be achieved after a period of 20 years.
Ground cover: The impact assessment reinforced the idea that the cultural landscape has preserved its defining character even though there have been changes in particular parameters and within certain limits; such changes can be monitored and managed to allow interventions at the proper time and in the proper manner in the interest of preserving the Outstanding Universal Value and its attributes. The impact assessment stressed that to maintain the balance in the landscape that has resulted from the interaction between people and nature over time, it is absolutely necessary to monitor these changes in detail as the percentage of areas in and around the property transformed into towns/settlements has already reachedthe critical level, and its further increase would represent a danger to the sustainability of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. Therefore major development of this type should be avoided and attention paid to rehabilitating recently neglected areas, such as terraces on higher ground in order to conserve water stability. The present impact assessment – even though it would need to be supplemented with further analysis, evaluations and more refined conclusions in certain areas – has provided a great deal of worthwhile methodological information that can be applied to the other Hungarian World Heritage properties as well.
The report also states that energy crops are newly cultured commercial plants raised for energy that will grow in areas unfavourable for grain production. This means that the power plant could encourage cultivation in previously uncultivated areas bringing about a major change in ground cover. The impact assessment draws attention to numerous ecological, environmental conservation and potential public health problems connected with the utilization of energy crops. On the basis of the precautionary principle, it suggests that the cultivation of energy crops must be suspended, or must be prevented within the property, due to the unknown ecological risks.
The impact assessment in its conclusions formulates feasibility conditions andrecommendations concerning the Szerencs straw-burning power plant and more generally regarding the sustainable utilization of the property. These recommendations will form the basis for discussions with the affected parties. The State Party will inform the World Heritage Centre about further developments.
c) Collaboration with Slovakia over a possible trans-boundary extension:
On this issue, nothing has been reported.
d) Review and reform of the National Country Planning Act in 2008
Amendments to the National Country Planning Act (2003) adopted on 19 July 2008 introduced new regulations for World Heritage properties, their buffer zones and sites on the national Tentative List. The amended law contains the boundaries of every Hungarian World Heritage property and properties on the Tentative List, and states that the manner and extent of land use must be in harmony with the objectives defined in their management plans. At the same time the “law also classifies all Hungarian World Heritage properties and sites on the tentative list as cultural heritage zones.”
e) Hungarian World Heritage Act
The drafting of a Hungarian World Heritage Act to strengthen protection and management of World Heritage properties in Hungary is underway and the Hungarian Parliament is expected to debate it in the middle of 2009. Its planned date of enactment is 1 January 2010.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note with satisfaction the thorough impact assessment carried out for the proposed straw burning power plant. The analysis of the impact within the framework of the wider landscape around the property, and the way that this landscape has developed over time, has produced the basis for a dialogue on how the property might be developed in a sustainable way. The State Party is optimistic that if certain conditions are met, it might also show how concerns and demands of both, the preservation of heritage values and of development can be reconciled and could serve as a foundation for a revision of the management plan. The drafting of a “World Heritage Act” should also considerably strengthen the legal environment for the preservation of World Heritage properties in Hungary.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies urge the State Party to keep the World Heritage Centre informed of all developments related to the powerplant given the potential considerable negative impact its development could have on the visual, environmental and ecologial aspects of the property if its design and concept are not considerably modified.