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Budapest Leaders Oppose Gov’t Plans on Hajógyári Island After Impact Study Made Public

Ábrahám Vass 2020.07.01.

In reference to an impact study which revealed that plans would involve felling up to 1,000 trees, both Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony and the 3rd district’s opposition mayor loudly protests the central government’s plans to set up a levy system on Budapest’s Hajógyári (Óbudai) Island. The government has long planned to establish a kayak-canoe academy and training center there.

It was back in 2017 when the government first decided on the establishment of the a state-of-the-art, “world-class” kayak and canoe academy and training center (named after Olympic- and World Champion kayaker Katalin Kovács, who would have a role in the professional work there too) on the island. Therefore, in May 2019 the government moved to take the island off the list of recommended places to earn World Heritage status, and soon announced the allocation of HUF 628 million (EUR 1.8 million) for the levy system.

As a matter of fact, Hajógyári Island has been considered a floodplain where periodic flooding has been a regular occurrence.

Hajógyári Island is where Sziget Festival is held (the plans wouldn’t affect the festival), and in its Southern part it also previously hosted convicted ‘disco pope’ László Vizoviczky‘s party empire. Those buildings have since been bought back by the state, and that is probably where the sports center would be established.

The establishment of the levy system would, however, involve felling up to 1,000 trees on the island, reported left-wing daily Népszava, in reference to an impact study found among the official announcements of the Government Office of Pest County. In addition, it would likely lead to 9cm higher water levels between the island and the city’s 3rd district (in the Danube’s Óbuda branch) that would result in stability problems at the Megyeri Bridge.

As a result, the Budapest mayor firmly promised to prevent the developments. In a Facebook post, Gergely Karácsony argued that after the City Park, the Római Part (Roman Embankment) and Ferencváros’ little forest, they have to “protect” another green area in the capital “from reckless destruction,” adding that neither him nor the district could accept an investment that could involve felling up to 1,000 trees and “truncating the green space.” He also revealed that both the capital and the district have properties on the island besides the state and private individuals, and investments couldn’t go without the owners’ green-light. “No investment can involve the unjustified destruction of the green space,” he insisted.

While the 3rd district (Óbuda) mayor László Kiss (Democratic Coalition) argued that the island was visited by thousands wishing to relax. He asked for support from “those who love the island” and pledged to do everything in his power to “preserve it for families and the community.” In his communique, he also claimed that the government did not consult with the local government on the matter, insisting that his administration cannot give the green-light to a plan that would involve a decrease in green areas.

In addition, green-liberal Párbeszéd (Karácsony’s party) group leader Tímea Szabó argued the levy system would put Budapest’s 3rd district at risk of flooding, speculating that the planned kayak and canoe academy is “a step in Orbán’s stealthy preparation for an Olympic bid.” 

In response to liberal ATV’s question, the Minister leading the PM’s Office, however, defended the government’s plans and insisted that Hajógyári’s protection from flood is a “common goal” and is “supported by everyone.” Therefore, trees can indeed be taken down to the extent flood prevention makes it necessary,” Gergely Gulyás argued.

featured image: the Northern part of Hajógyári Island during Sziget Festival in 2011; via Márton Magócsi/MTI