Russian natural gas giant Gazprom is under fire following speculation that a new tower it plans to build in St Petersburg, Russia, may breach design rules imposed by United Nations cultural body UNESCO.
The project operator said on its website on Monday that it has been given the go-ahead by the city to build the Lakhta Centre on the city’s outskirts near the Gulf of Finland.
The statement was quick to stress that the spire-like glass building, which would reach a height of nearly 500 meters and would be Europe’s tallest building, would feature ‘a number of public services, including stores, restaurants and cafés’.
But there are fears that design of the tower may violate UNESCO rules.
In 2010, the city forced Gazprom to abandon plans for a slightly smaller 403 meter building (pictured) amid intense opposition from local preservation groups and a threat by UNESCO to exclude the city’s entire historic centre from its list of World Heritage sites.
Whilst the new site, situated on the north-western edge of the city near the Gulf of Finland, is in an area which had remained largely undeveloped in recent years and therefore was not overly significant in terms of cultural values, activists say the shinning object will still dominate the city’s horizon.
“Even nine kilometres from the centre, the building will be the most prominent object that an eye can see,” said local legislature member Boris Vishnevsky of the opposition Yabloko party.
The city, which has over four million people and was built over marshland by Tsar Peter the Great using slave labour in the early 18th century, is a major European cultural centre.
Apart from the potential breaching of UNESCO rules, there is also disquiet about the fast tracking of the decision and the absence of any opportunity for public debate.