Who is right? A few interesting things regarding a park development in Budapest

Category: Other

Budapest has a well-known and highly valued park that has been a refuge for city dwellers since the late 19th century, called Városliget. The literal translation is closest to City Grove or just - The Grove. When Budapest was much smaller, the Grove was considered to be out of town - was even thought of as countryside. Now it is part of the most visited places in Budapest, a must-see for all tourists but also still a welcoming place for the capital’s inhabitants to visit.  

A few years ago, the current government launched a large project called the Grove Project. Its official website boasts of new developments, ranging from renewed green spaces to newly planned musea and other sights (e.g. the House of Hungarian Music). 

But is the picture really that shiny? According to a few environmental activists, the reality is far from the glossy PR publications. These NGOs and dedicated people founded the group called Ligetvédők - the Grove Protectors. They claim that the project is faulty in a number of ways:

●       old buildings are being demolished without paying attention to their asbestos content;

●       many more trees are cut than would be necessary for renewing the green spaces of the park;

●       the new musea will take green spaces and make the Grove into a collection of concrete buildings, and billions of forints are to be spent for constructing new bars, restaurants, entertainment facilities instead of enlarging green areas, etc.

The members of the group used all types of demonstrations including picketing and civil disobedience to block the project. They were even subject to a number of harassments by the civil security forces employed by the construction companies. They left the area only after the battle became hopeless.

But now they have turned to the court. They filed lawsuits in the name of the local civil society organization Civil Zugló against the permits of the new musea, and as it seems now, they have won three out of three cases. First, in November 2018, the court annulled the construction permit of the new Museum of Ethnography. The reason: the local NGO was not allowed to take part in the first instance permitting process, could not access important documents of the file and was not allowed to copy the plans of the building. In December 2018, the court annulled another construction permit, this time of the Museum of Transportation (no longer to be built in the Grove  due to a change of plans), again for the same procedural reasons - not granting access to information for the local NGO. And recently another permit was annulled by the court, this time for the New National Gallery

While these court victories most probably will not stop the completion of the Grove Project, which is ultimately said to be harmful for the park and the greenery, they can at least strengthen the legal position of NGOs and the public and may emphasize the importance of proper public involvement in decision-making in environmental matters.

The story was first published in J&E Newsletter Network News, Issue 2019/1, 4th February 2019.

Read also previous Network News.