At its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008) the World Heritage Committee regretted that the State Party did not provide a detailed state of conservation report, and that the maps submitted by the State Party did not provide detailed boundaries and buffer zones of all components of the property, including the Leningrad Region; it invited the State Party to establish, in coordination with the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS, an international expert group on the St. Petersburg Retrospective Inventory. The Committee also urged the State Party to finalize the boundary of the property and its buffer zone.
The Committee expressed its grave concern about the proposed Gazprom tower of the “Ohkta Centre”, which could affect the Outstanding Universal Value of this property and urged the State Party to inform the World Heritage Centre on the official position of the proposed project and also requested the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission to the property to evaluate the potential impact of the proposed Ohkta Tower on the Outstanding Universal Value, integrity and authenticity of the property, and not to take action on any project until the results of the mission are available.
The Committee also requested the State Party, to develop a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session in 2009; it further requested the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, a state of conservation report, including details on the Gazprom project, with a view to considering, in the absence of substantial progress, the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Although the World Heritage Committee, at its 32nd session requested the State Party to submit a state of conservation report, and a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, but the State Party has not submitted either.
A joint World Heritage Centre-ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission visited the property from 11 to 17 May 2009 and considered the following issues:
a) Legal Protection
At federal level, the property is treated as national heritage, although there is no specific legislation for World Heritage. The mission noted that the adoption of “The Law of St. Petersburg” (2006), that delineates protection zones and regimes of land use within designated areas, greatly contributes to the protection of the property. However the Act regulates protection only on the portion of the property located within the boundaries of St. Petersburg. Other parts, located on the territory of the Leningrad district, have no protected areas.
The mission reviewed the boundary issues: In 1990, at the time of inscription, the boundaries initially proposed were approved by Resolution No. 1045 of 30/12/1988 of the Leningrad City Council. A buffer zone was not provided. In 2007, the State Party submitted to the World Heritage Centre a new version of the boundaries in which the limits of the property were significantly reduced. In 2009, further new maps were sent to the World Heritage Centre. The limits identified in 1990 as being for the property were set out as limits of the buffer zone, while the territory of the property was again greatly reduced. The gap between the proposed boundaries today and those that were included in 1990 poses a serious problem concerning the status of the property. Another problem is related to the lack of correspondence between the Convention and national legislation on the issue of boundaries. The federal law establishes a system of three types of areas of protection, while the Law of St. Petersburg delineates 6 types of protected areas. The maps of the boundaries submitted in 2009, thus have no direct legal basis with the property consisting of an assemblage of different areas of protection.
The mission also noted the evolving liberalisation of protection regimes. During the period 1713-1918, there were very strict regulations for the height of buildings. This regulation complied with the so-called "celestial line" horizontal panorama of buildings and ensembles that reflected the surrounding landscape. In 2004 building heights rose up to 24 meters for the city centre and up to 48 meters outside the centre; today in certain construction areas outside the centre, heights may go up to 100 metres. Moreover, a not entirely clear procedure is envisaged, which provides for the possibility of exceeding this height (such as for the proposed Okhta tower with a height of 396 metres).
The management of the property is shared between the two Federal districts: Saint-Petersburg and the Leningrad District. They are significantly uneven as regards their staff (150 persons on one side, 18 people on the other side). This arrangement means that there is no single entity with responsibility for the World Heritage property. There is no management plan for the property, which might cover stakeholders, activities and resources.
The mission notes that the system of planning instruments for the management of the property is relatively ineffective for the following reasons: there is a lack of a master plan and planning for the whole of the property that would allow integrated territorial management; there is no link between spatial planning and the system of protected areas with conservation schemes; the various planning tools have limited effectiveness in controlling the height of buildings, as permissions are often given to plans with no elevations, or in coordinating architecture and urban planning.
At the time of inscription in 1990, the property was nominated as a collection of monuments and ensembles, although the ICOMOS evaluation stressed the landscape scale of the property. Since then in tune with changing concepts of cultural heritage, the property has come to be seen more as an urban landscape closely linked to and shaped by its riverine structure and with its panoramas focusing on the watercourses that were its main transport arteries. Of particular significance is the panorama along the Neva, which maintains the "celestial line" horizontal landscape. The property needs to be managed as a landscape for the interconnection between its attributes and for their overall panoramas.
d) Gazprom Okhta Centre
This proposed tower exemplifies the difficulties inherent in the current legal, planning and management systems. In 2006, Gazprom launched an international competition for the project on the banks of the Neva, in the area of the estuary of the Okhta. The specifications for the competition were not in tune with the organs of protection. The project is a tower of 300 metres, while the current system limits the height to 100 metres. The competition winner, RMJM (Great Britain), proposes to build a tower of 396 metres.
Requests to the State Party for more information on the project have not been met. The tower is said to fulfil a social need. Currently, archaeological excavations are being carried out on the site where the remains of XIV-XVII century Swedish fortress have been discovered. The sponsors are considering a design that takes account of these remains without them being retained in situ. The proposal to build the Okhta tower has provoked a strong reaction from civil society organizations.
The mission is of the opinion that, in its current position and with its height, the tower threatens the Outstanding Universal Value of the property:
- The tower is in contradiction with the characteristics of the property as a horizontal, riverine, urban landscape;
- The tower threatens the authenticity and integrity of the property coming into dissonance with the "celestial line" historical panorama of the Neva River;
- The tower will compromise certain key visual axes;
- The proposed height of the tower violates existing regimes for the territory and could constitute a dangerous precedent;l>
As requested by the 32nd session of the Committee, high-level meetings between the Chairperson of the Committee, the Director of the Centre and the authorities of St Petersburg took place, including with the governor.
e) State of conservation
The mission was made aware of some current restorations projects such as the palace of Prince Alexei Alexandrovič, and the Theater Kamennoostrovskii. Beside these laudable achievements, the mission noted a number of negative examples, as a result of factors mentioned above and the lack of effective management. These include demolitions and inappropriate development at hotel buildings (Ambassador Hotel, Hotel Astor), where only the facade of the monument has been preserved and buildings that appear to contravene regulations, such as the Renaissance Hotel, where the rue Potchtanskaïa is overhung.
f) Mission recommendations
The mission made the following recommendations:
- As the boundaries put forward in the most recent maps do not conform to what was inscribed in 1990, the State Party is requested to propose formally any amendments it wishes to make to the boundaries in line with the Convention and national legislation. It further recommends that the proposal includes a buffer zone which should protect the wider landscape and especially the panorama along the Neva.
- The State Party is requested to improve the management of the property and its buffer zone in the following areas: Create a leading management authority for the property and its buffer zone; Develop a management plan that would allow coordination between actors, activities and resources for the preservation and development of the property, guide the urbanization process, and define the recommended degree of intervention for elements of the property and the buffer zone, in accordance with territorial plans.
- The World Heritage Committee should not support the construction of the Okhta tower in its current from, as it constitutes a threat to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The mission recommends that the Committee could remain open to alternative proposals that respected the authenticity and integrity of the property. Any new proposal must be accompanied by an independent environmental impact assessment.
- The mission considers that the threats to the Outstanding Universal Value identified above suggest that the World Heritage Committee should issue a warning to the State Party about the possible inclusion on the List in Danger if the recommended measures are not addressed.
- The mission suggests holding an international conference in Saint Petersburg on the preservation and management of World Heritage sites that are urban landscapes with similar characteristics to the property.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS remain concerned at the discrepancy between the boundaries of the property as inscribed in 1990 and what is now being put forward by the State Party as the inscribed area, as this shows a significant reduction. It suggests that if the State Party wishes to reduce the boundaries this needs to be part of a formal submission to the Committee. The lack of concerted management is clearly having undesirable consequences in terms of inappropriate development and re-development. They consider that a management system, with a defined management authority and management plan, need to be put in place as a matter of urgency. The Okhta tower would fundamentally and irreversibly alter the horizontal skyline of the property which has been a conscious feature of the city since it inception, and be a threat to its integrity and Outstanding Universal Value, and they consider that work on this project should be suspended.
In the absence of substantial progress, the World Heritage Committee may wish to consider the property for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.