The State Party’s report, prepared by the Latvian State Inspection for Heritage Protection, dated 20 December 2007 responds to the request by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session to provide details on progressmade with the “Conception Project” for the left side of the river Daugava and toprovide detailson any projects which may have an impact on the visual integrity of the property, forexamination by the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session in 2008 in view of the possibility of inclusion of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The report was completed by additional information dated 14 April 2008 by the State Inspection and the municipality.
Concerning the World Heritage Committee’s request to implement the results of the visual impact analysis of proposed high-rise buildings in the buffer zone to prevent any negative impact on the outstanding universal value of the property and its buffer zone, as well as on important views to and from the property, the State Inspection reports that planning measures for the Historic Centre of Riga and its buffer zone territory were approved by the City Council on 7February 2006.
The report also notes that a plan developed by the State Inspection for Heritage Protection postpones the developmentof high-rises on the right bank of the Daugava River until the left-bank urban landscape draft concept can befinalized, and that high-rises can be built only in those locations identified by previous planning documents, including the Detailed plan of Ķīpsala, the only exclusion being the Hansabanka building. The State Inspection notes that other projects that failed to comply with cultural monument protection requirements have been halted in the early stages, and that they have urged the City Council to rely on these requirements and continue improvement work on Daugava River Left-bank development concept.
Concerning the World Heritage Committee’s urging the State Party to “further reinforce the current law on the preservation and protection of the Historic Centre of Riga by limiting the height of new constructions in the World Heritage core and buffer zones, and beyond, if necessary”, the State Inspection report notes that the “Law on the Preservation and Protection of Riga’s Historical Centre” and subsequent regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers support the State Inspection’s insistence that taller buildings be located away from the Historic Centre, and not have an impact on views to the Historic Centre.
Concerning the World Heritage Committee’s request to review all current and future projects in the core area and its buffer zone, and in particular to “halt ongoing high-rise projects and further inappropriate planning for the left side of the river Daugava, until a thorough and independent analysis of potential impacts on the values, authenticity and integrity of the Historic Centre has been undertaken and the Conception Project has been thoroughly revised,” the State Inspection report notes that it has set conditions on the Daugava River left bank urban landscape draft concept that respects the value of the World Heritage property, and has put pressure on the progress of future projects. The State Inspection report notes that in 2007, initiatives of Riga’s city architect to negotiate with landowners and developers concluded in providing for the harmonized “development of Āgenskalns Bay area at the Southern end of Ķīpsala”. Subsequently, following the assessment of impacts on the views to the Historic Centre, all inappropriate high-rise projects were halted with the exception of projects planned for the southern end of Kipsala, whose development plan was in place when Riga was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
Concerning the World Heritage Committee’s request that the State Party undertake an “overall visual impact study of the property and its setting in order to provide a framework for proposed new developments to ensure that they fully respect the outstanding universal value of the property,” the State Inspection report refers to earlier assessments of view impacts carried out in 2005 and 2006, and suggests that the monitoring of the site has been reinforced sufficiently for the preservation and protection of its cultural and historic value. The report also notes that similar impact assessments will be continuing for the Daugava River left-bank urban landscape draft concept project.
Concerning the World Heritage Committee’s request that the State Party report on “progress made with the “Conception Project” for the left side of the river Daugava, and to provide details on any projects which may have an impact on the visual integrity of the property, for examination by the Committee at its 32nd session in 2008 in view of the possibility of inclusion of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger,” the State Inspection notes its belief that the actions of the State Party provide a good example of using various means to protect threatened heritage from the pressures of economic development. The report states unequivocally that “the potential threat to the unique universal value of the World Heritage property has been eliminated”.
The State Party was also requested to invite a joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission to assess the state of conservation of the property. This mission took place from 25 to 28 March 2008 and the full report is available at http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2008
The mission report draws conclusions in a number of areas:
a) The overall situation with respect to administration, management and conservation of the World Heritage property is improving
The legislative basis for the protection of heritage is relatively stable: a special act for the protection of the Historic Centre of Riga (adopted in 2003), and a Council on Protection and Development of Historic Riga, with representatives of local and national authorities, the UNESCO National Commission and the Architects Union, established (also in 2003) promise to strengthen support for heritage conservation in Riga by assisting the State Inspection for Heritage Protection, overloaded by its current responsibilities to approve all modification projects within the World Heritage site. The mission report recommended that the new legislation be fully implemented and the newly established Council be given increased authority to review projects affecting the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage property.
While restoration and maintenance work on structures in the Historic Centre of Riga is “moving in a positive direction”, the quality of much contemporary infill architecture - in spite of a number of conferences, workshops and seminars organised by the State Inspection on this problem - is less satisfactory, and some projects, concerning scale and concept, do not “fit into the traditional historic fabric and streetscape”.
Responding to general concern for the preservation and enhancement of the wooden heritage in Riga, a special programme for wooden architecture was approved by the authorities in March 2008. The mission report noted that this programme should be fully implemented, adequately supported, and monitored.
The mission report noted the need for improvements in two communication areas: the need to strengthen existing useful exchanges, co-operation, and consultations among representatives of the Municipality, the State Inspection, and stakeholders, including universities, NGOs, professional associations/ organisations, local inhabitants and representatives of the Civil Society; and the need to continuously strengthen awareness of municipal staff, local citizens and stakeholders about the nature of World Heritage values in Riga.
b) The Daugava Left Bank Conception Project (including the revised plan presented to World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS mission) remains a major threat; if realised the Conception Project will have a strong negative impact on the visual integrity of the World Heritage property
However, the mission report, recognizing that the overall situation of the administration, management and conservation of the property is improving, recommends that discussion of the possible inscription of the property on the World Heritage List in danger should be postponed until 2009, to allow time for the authorities to implement the mission’s recommendations, and to thoroughly revise the Conception Project for the development of the left bank of river Daugava, in particular in the southern part of Kipsala island.
In summary, the State Inspection deserves to be strongly commended for the many effective long term strategies, planning measures and initiatives designed to strengthen respect for the outstanding universal value of the inscribed World Heritage property. While the State Party report describes initiatives in place before the 31st session of the World Heritage Committee rather than the new actions and commitments as requested, all inappropriate development on the left bank of the Daugava River is reported to have been stopped, but for the already planned projects in Kipsala.
It should also be noted that the State Party submitted a new concept plan for the left bank of the Daugava River for review by the mission. The mission report recorded that the new concept proposal is fundamentally similar to previous concepts and that the potential negative impacts on visual integrity of the World Heritage property remain as threats, in spite of the arguments offered by the State Party that the developments planned for Kipsala were in place at the moment of inscription (1997). The State Party further argues that the World Heritage in subsequent discussions did not take up this issue and that it was also not challenged by ICOMOS.
Given the many strong efforts made by the State Party to deal with the issues raised by the World Heritage Committee concerning development on the left bank of the Daugava River, it is important that the State Party should be requested to reinforce its efforts to reduce the impact of developments planned for Kipsala and to report back in a year’s time.
At this time, given the many positive aspects of the State Party report and the findings of the joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS mission, it does not seem appropriate to consider the inclusion of the World Heritage property on the World Heritage List in Danger.