At its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), the World Heritage Committee expressed its appreciation to the State Party for the general success of its efforts to halt high-rise developments in the buffer zone of the World Heritage property with the exception of the development plan of the Southern Kipsala zone.
While acknowledging the State Party’s contention that the development plans at Kipsala were in place at the time of inscription in 1997, and were then not challenged, the World Heritage Committee regretted their implementation including construction of a 20 storey tower and also regretted that the new Conception project proposal for the left bank of the Daugava River (as presented to the joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission of March 2008) did not deviate greatly from previous submissions, and would result in significant negative impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property. The World Heritage Committee also endorsed the recommendations of the 2008 joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission, and requested the State Party to implement them.
The State Party provided the report requested by the World HeritageCommittee on 30 January.2009. The report addresses in turn the principal recommendations of the joint mission:
a) Revised, “Conception Project”, taking into consideration the visual integrity of the World Heritage property
The State Party report notes that the “Daugava Left-bank Development Concept” was completely reviewed once again in 2008, and that the initial project has been significantly changed, reducing the density and height of several high-rise buildings to 121m (maximum authorised), moving away the new buildings from the River Daugava and the buffer zone of the property and refusing building permission to several high-rise building projects. However, the report indicates that it is not possible to refuse completely the high-rise buildings in the Conception as some projects were approved before the inscription of the property in the World Heritage List. This concerns three high-rise buildings in the southern part of Kipsala (buffer zone), for which no reduction if height seems to be proposed by the State Party, although requested by the World Heritage Committee.
The State Party further notes that the economic recession has limited planned construction activity, and that the public may be favouring low-rise construction for future housing. In addition, an analysis by international consultants has pointed out the inadequacy of many of the planned investment projects, particularly from an infrastructure and traffic management perspective. The consultants’ report suggests limiting construction on the left bank of the river Daugava. The report notes that several construction projects are already suspended, such as the competition winning project for high-rise buildings on the island Klīversala.
The State Party analysis of the visual impact of the River Daugava Left bank silhouette –suggests that from some view points, the Historic Centre of Riga panorama is already disturbed by existing buildings – especially by the Swedbank (former Hansabanka) building. While it is not possible to correct this mistake, the State Party’s analysis of the visual impact of current projects as seen from view points in the territory of the Historic Centre of Riga), suggests that the revised River Daugava Left bank silhouette composition does not impact significantly the view corridors of the city.
b) Implementation of the legal framework for the preservation and development of Old Riga and review of projects
The State Party report notes that Latvia “is the only country in the world to adopt the highest level World Heritage protection rules (national legislation, Cabinet of Ministers regulations, municipal regulations, etc.)”. The report informs about provisions, laws and regulations to ensure that tall buildings are kept at distances from the historic core, to protect views to the Historic Centre.
However, the State Party report does not comment directly on the degree to which these important laws are being implemented, or on the efforts of the Council on the Preservation and Development of the Historic Centre of Riga on the review of projects for impacts on Outstanding Universal Value and integrity. Furthermore, it’s necessary to specify how the “Daugava Left-bank Silhouette Development Concept” project revision is implemented in terms of the existing legal framework for the preservation and development of Old Riga and in the amended territorial planning regulations.
c) Historic setting and urban fabric
The State Party report notes several recent initiatives and seminars which have focused on this design challenge and that in recent years the quality of projects has improved. The firm position of the State Inspection against copies and replicas is noted, as well as its efforts to defend established public open space from being built up. Finally the report notes that new projects within the property and its buffer zone are now the subject of international competitions, and a multi-level project evaluation system, assuring significant public discussion.
d) Programme for Preserving the Wooden Architecture of Riga
The State Party notes amendments to the legislation in January 2008 which preserve and protect characteristic wooden architecture in the Historic Centre of Riga by requiring that replacements of “lost” buildings maintain original size and materials. As well, the State Party notes that in spring 2008, the Ministry of Culture adopted “The Strategy of Wooden Architecture preservation 2008-2011” to facilitate awareness raising in this area and to support particular projects.
e) Co-operation between the Municipality, the State Inspection and other stakeholders
The State Party report notes recent initiatives to provide greater exchange between stakeholders in project review, including initiation of a “multilevel project evaluation system”. The report also notes the public dimension of the meetings of the Council for the Preservation and Development of the Historic Centre of Riga, whose members include representatives of all sectors and levels: national and municipal authorities, the UNESCO National Commission, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Regional Development and Local Government, as well as professional associations. The report also informs about the important work of the Riga City Architect Office in evaluation and control of contemporary architecture projects.
f) Awareness-raising, presentation, signage and promotion of the World Heritage area
The State Party report notes the success of recent efforts to improve local heritage awareness, citing the example of initiatives in the Latgale district, the involvement of the mass media in developing television programmes which promote cultural heritage exploration and understanding, the development of the State Inspection web page, and the value of the use of the panorama and silhouette of the Historic Centre of Riga as European Heritage Label site in July 2007.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the State Party has made a strong effort to respond fully to the decisions by the World Heritage Committee and the recommendations of the 2008 reactive monitoring mission in modifying the Daugava-Left-bank Development Silhouette Concept by reducing the density and height of several high-rise buildings and moving several new buildings further away from the buffer zone. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies agree with the State Party’s analysis that the revised Daugava-Left-bank Development Silhouette Concept does not significantly impact on view corridors from the City. There are still concerns however that such high-density development in this area could have a major socio-economic impact on the property.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that the issue of high-rise buildings adjacent to World Heritage properties or in their buffer zone is being discussed for many cases and that policy advice is being developed, including with a proposed UNESCO Recommendation relating to Historic Urban Landscapes (see Document WHC-09/33.COM/7.1).