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22 Jul, 2010 07:24

Constitutional Court backs opponents of Gazprom’s skyscraper

Russia’s Constitutional Court has ruled that St. Petersburg’s city authorities acted against the constitution when they made an exception to the rules for the planned 400-meter-high “Okhta-Center” tower.

The multibillion project sponsored by gas giant Gazprom has drawn much criticism. Residents of St. Petersburg and cultural heritage organizations say that the gigantic structure will ruin the skyline of the city, even though the construction site is located far from the center, where most of the historical buildings are located.

Nevertheless, city authorities gave the tower the green light after controversial public hearings, where, according to opponents, dissenting opinions were completely ignored. The procedure of the hearings was the subject of review by the Constitutional Court. The court backed the protestors’ position, saying that the city authorities have violated the Russian Constitution.

There is a limit on the height of new buildings in St. Petersburg, though the city council made an exception for Okhta-Center. However, this action has gone against Russia’s international obligations to protect cultural heritage, the court decided. Judges also agreed that the public hearings did not give an opportunity to the protestors to voice their opinion, reports Kommersant business daily. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is binding for all other courts in Russia, which opens new possibilities for activists to challenge the project.

Earlier, President Dmitry Medvedev called for a closer examination of Okhta-Center and the possible damage it may cause to St. Petersburg. The president commented on a letter from UNESCO – the UN’s cultural heritage, education and science body – which argued strongly against the skyscraper. The letter was sent in response to the Constitutional Court’s request.