Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Petersburg skyscraper gets green light as protesters march

St. Petersburg’s historic skyline cannot be saved – neither by UNESCO’s cultural mandarins, nor by crusading rocker Yury Shevchuk.

At least that’s the view being driven home by the city’s governor Valentina Matvienko following a thumbs-up from the General Directorate of State Examination.

That watchdog announced on Saturday that there were no problems with allowing Gazprom to erect a 403-metre tower in the city centre – despite local regulations limiting the height of new development in the UNESCO-listed heritage site to 48 metres.

Matvienko said city officials would be guided by the directorate’s verdict, which seems to spell the end for hopes that the scheme would be cancelled or at least shortened.

That disappointing news did not stop marchers taking to the streets of the Northern Capital at the weekend.

Protestors gathered carrying rubble from other historic buildings demolished in the city and firewood to symbolise the loss of green space.

Meanwhile anarchists complained that the authorities were building the tower in order to defecate on the city below.

Activists, many attached to the opposition Yabloko party, collected signatures for an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights complaining about the cancellation of a referendum on the controversial scheme.

But even there it seemed the fates were against them: rebel rocker Yury Shevchuk attempted to perform his anthem “Motherland” for the crowds, only to be thwarted by a snapped guitar string.

The row over the Okhta Centre has dominated attempts to re-house Gazprom-Neft, the oil arm of state-owned energy giant Gazprom.

Objections were voiced even in the president’s office, where Dmitry Medvedev called for a halt to the current plans for fear of UNESCO removing Petersburg’s World Heritage Site status.

But PM Vladimir Putin has repeatedly backed the plan, saying it will regenerate the city’s economy in the wake of the recession.

And a heritage watchdog which was leading the official criticism of the plan was due to have its teeth pulled in a ministerial reshuffle which would put it directly into the paws of the Culture Ministry.

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