Since 2005, the World Heritage Centre has been alerted to concerns over the demolition of existing buildings and construction of new buildings in part of the buffer zone, significantly altering the character of the area.
Erzsébetváros (the section within the Grand Boulevard of the District, Erzsébetváros), is commonly referred to as the “old Jewish quarter of Pest” due to the concentration of Jewish cultural heritage that developed there over time – and for the ghetto that was established there from 1944 to 1945.
On 1 February 2008, a report on the state of conservation of the World Heritage property was submitted by the State Party. It addresses the concerns of the World Heritage Committee and also points out that damaging changes have occurred although the entire property and its buffer zone, has been designated as an “historic district” and 51 buildings within the “old Jewish quarter of Pest” are individually protected. The report explains that there are two main reasons for this: first the regulations did not enter into force until 2005 and secondly existing local building regulations, as well as the financial/economic regulations worked against conservation. The issues are in particular:
a) Demolition and reconstruction
The report indicates that no further demolitions have taken place – but there are still existing permits not yet acted upon. As for the quality of new buildings, there is little that can be done for existing structures.
b) Re-examination of existing demolition permits
Consultations began at the October 2008 meeting of the Hungarian National World Heritage Commission, when the 7th District Erzsébetváros Municipal Government expressed its willingness to participate in ensuring the financial resources for possible compensation in collaboration with the state and the Capital City Government. The present international financial crisis may improve the conditions for negotiations aiming at the retraction of demolition permits that have been issued.
c) Urban conservation and development plan for the buffer zone
When the District’s urban planning and building regulations were prepared by the Budapest Capital City Head Architect’s Office and the National Office of Cultural Heritage, the principal architectural and urban values of the area were taken into consideration. However, before being adopted by the Budapest Capital City Assembly, the heritage section of the regulations was detached and postponed until new regulations for the preservation of historic value are drafted that will have jurisdiction over the other districts of Budapest as well.
d) Funding for rehabilitation and restoration
The Capital City Assembly has proposed the drafting of a government bill and recommended legal amendments to address economic/financial problems. These initiatives could be enacted at the earliest in the 2010 tax law. Currently other opportunities to promote interventions of a rehabilitative nature are being investigated.
e) Archaeological survey of the ancient ghetto
A condition survey of the former ghetto wall has been performed, and the documentation prepared. It is however pointed out that except between November 1944 and January 1945, there was never a walled ghetto at the territory of Budapest. The so-called “old Jewish quarter of Pest” is an example where Jewish residents lived together with others including Hungarians and Germans, from the second half of the 19th century. The area was never a homogenous district inhabited only by Jews.
f) Conservation measures for the “Jewish quarter”
The report highlights the importance of the involvement of civil organizations and individuals in promoting an understanding of the character and value of the quarter. The above responses are supplemented by details of strategic measures being considered to establish a regulatory system that encourages and provides incentives for interventions aimed at rehabilitation in the property and its buffer zone. These measures are still at the initial planning stages. They include:
- A review of the management plan by the Capital City Mayor’s Office and the formation of a Management Body;
- The drafting of a World Heritage Act to promote the better preservation and sustainable development of the Hungarian World Heritage properties. The Hungarian Parliament is expected to debate this in the middle of 2009, and the scheduled date for its enactment is 1 January 2010.
In response to a better understanding of the overall urban landscape and threats to its integrity, consideration is being given to an extension of the buffer zone and a reassessment of the relationship between the property and the buffer zone.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS note the specific measures taken to contain the demolition and redevelopment and the limitations of these processes given the validity of formal demolition permits. They consider that the strategic response now being considered by the State Party are a valuable way forward and particularly the introduction of a World Heritage Act.