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23 Sep, 2009 12:24

Gazprom tower approved, controversy stays

Russia's natural gas giant Gazprom has won approval to build a company skyscraper in St. Petersburg. The new Okhta Center’s 403-meter tower will be among the tallest buildings in the world.

Debate had surrounded the project, with many critics fearing the building will ruin the city's carefully preserved skyline.

Nonetheless, members of St. Petersburg’s government have voted unanimously for the approval.

Public debates on the issue on September 1, 2009 also were deemed to have a favorable outcome. The tower’s opponents, however, are convinced that the debates were conducted with violations and were largely kept concealed from general the public.

“All the legal questions correspond to current law; no violations were made by the decision. Obviously the tower is noticeable, but most of the committee members shared the opinion that it doesn’t affect the historic view,” St. Petersburg region’s governor Valentina Matvienko said.

Russia’s Yabloko party is suing St. Petersburg’s authorities for granting the approval. One of the reasons for the lawsuit is that the regulation height of buildings in the area is no more than 100 meters.

According to the executive secretary of Russia’s committee for UNESCO affairs, Grigory Ordzhonikidze, city officials had no authority to give their permission.

“As the historical center of St. Petersburg is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s subject to the federal government’s control,” Ordzhonikidze told Interfax, adding that the issue is not the whole Okhta Center, but only its tower.

Should the tower be built, it might hamper Russia’s chances to be elected to UNESCO’s governing body.

The Okhta Center, set to be completed by 2016, will occupy one million square meters, with construction costs of $2.3 billion. Initially they were to be divided between Gazprom (51%) and the City administration (49%), but after the city scrapped the expenditure item from its 2009-2011 budget, Gazprom will secure the financing by itself.