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21 November, 2011  ▪  Oleksandr Krasnohorodsky

The Great Land Grab

The new master plan for Kyiv may be a way for officials to cash in on thousands of hectares of premium land

By the end of 2011, authorities in Kyiv hope to adopt a new master plan for the capital which does not conform to existing regulations and defies the logic of city planning. Naturally, this document does not contain promised mechanisms for attracting investment. The piles of bureaucratic papers conceal a desire to legalize at least 1,200 hectares of land transferred  in the shadows by Leonid Chernovetsky’s team of not to gain control over several more thousand hectares. A ten-digit figure is at stake.

BACKGROUND

In 2008, the Kyiv city council decided to draft a document entitled “A Master Plan for the Development of the City of Kyiv and Its Suburban Zone Until 2025.” At the time, the team of then-Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky argued that the previous plan to expand the area occupied by the city from 83,600 hectares to 143,300 hectares was not being implemented. They noted that population and traffic were growing by the hour and, most importantly, that the masterplan valid at the time did not contain mechanisms needed to attract investment to Kyiv. As a result, the group working on the master plan spent UAH 24 million of budget money in four years and finally produced a document which no independent expert has been able to call progressive in terms of city development. Neither the Kyiv City Administration nor the Cabinet of Ministers has the slightest idea of how to attract big foreign capital to large-scale infrastructure projects in Kyiv, given the level of corruption among officials and their backward ways of thinking.

According to the new master plan, priority development projects in the next five years will require UAH 131 billion in investments. Through 2025, that sum is nearly UAH 500 billion. That these figures are wishful thinking is made clear by the fact that Kyiv fails to meet its budget receipts plan almost every year. The city deficit was UAH 7.7 billion in 2009 and nearly UAH .5 billion in 2010. Even assuming that the city’s projected income is real, UAH 500 billion is still absurd, because in 2011, to take one year as an example, the Kyiv City Council expects the city budget to receive just UAH 16.3 billion.

The authors of the new master plan envision lands in Kyiv Region being used for residential property development, while non-environmentally friendly enterprises are to be moved to adjacent territories. Sewage purification facilities and a garbage incineration plant are to be built in Obukhiv district. Sources in the Kyiv City Administration told The Ukrainian Week that Kyiv Region authorities now simply have to face the fact that “territories adjacent to Kyiv” will be used for such purposes. “This scenario was seen looming in 2008, when the central authorities okayed efforts to develop the master plan and stopped funding work on the plan for Kyiv Region,” our source said. “Now the district authorities are being forced to agree to the master plan without being able to read it in its entirety. Of course, no-one will voice any discontent with the document today, even though such issues are decided in a different way in the civilized world.”

There is little difference between the current master plan and the proposed version in terms of residential property development, civic centers and transport infrastructure. The city authorities bluffed as they claimed that green zones would increase in number if a new document was adopted, while the historical areas would be saved from further construction. As far as green areas are concerned, the document commissioned by the Kyiv city leaders juggles figures: to achieve their goals, they will simply reclassify forests as parks and public gardens. Historical and cultural heritage sites can only be safeguarded against new property development if detailed maps are produced and officially approved and their boundaries are clearly marked in the land cadastre. This is unlikely, in particular because of tight deadlines.

WARTS AND ALL

According to Kyivhenplan CEO Volodymyr Chekmariov, who produced the previous master plan for Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital allocated on average 10-15% of funding earmarked for constructing and reconstructing infrastructure objects for 10 years running. “Before the crisis hit, we were ahead of the plan only in constructing trade and office centers, which have attracted many cars and aggravated road congestion,” Chekmariov explains. “The new document in itself will not solve the problem. And there was no need whatsoever (except to conceal land-related crimes) to spend so much budget money on a new master plan.”

While some say the new document is inadequate in terms of city planning, this view is not held by those who now have the authority to allot land. That the Kyiv authorities wanted to conceal misappropriations of land under the cover of a new master plan is corroborated by the new team led by Oleksandr Popov. However, they seem to have picked up the idea of legalizing illicit land allocation decisions from their predecessors. Now Popov and his first deputy, Oleksandr Mazurchak, keep repeating that the Kyiv City Administration has managed, through court, to restore to communal property 1,200 hectares of land which was previously allocated to private persons, while official zoning was changed. But no-one has seen a register of these land plots. The city administration is in no hurry to open the city cadastre and the results of the inventory of this land are kept away from the public.

According to sources that have spoken to The Ukrainian Week, in the past six years the Chief Architecture Directorate and the Kyiv Land Administration have indeed revoked a number of approvals previously issued to businessmen. However with few exceptions, the authors of the new master plan have not put these plots of land back into their original zone categories (greenery, recreation zones, historical sites, etc.). It appears that the current owners and lessees will be required either to pay more for this land, or see it sold to other entities. Even Kyiv’s chief architect Serhiy Tselovalnyk said that the new master plan lacks the category “incongruous construction,” implying that no-one would demolish what has already been built, but “it would be a good idea to express condemnation of this phenomenon.” Oleksiy Vasyliuk, vice president of the National Environmental Center, has calculated that the new master plan would effectively doom over 480 hectares of parks and public gardens in Kyiv and nearly 700 hectares of forests within the city limits to destruction. Chekmariov says: “Independent experts are denied access to precise information about these plots of land. The graphical images of Kyiv’s new master plan in the form of placards and drawings published online differ greatly. We have to essentially wait for the results of a state expert examination. But if a directive to agree on and approve the master plan is handed down from the top, its results are not likely to be of much use.”

UAH 30 billion at stake

According to a normative evaluation approved in 2007, one square meter of land in Kyiv is valued at UAH 385.8. Leonid Novakivsky, first deputy director of the Kyiv Institute for Land Relations, says the true market value is six to seven times higher, putting the price of 1,200 hectares at UAH 30 billion at the very least. In light of the fact that Kyiv may receive an additional 5,000 hectares of disputed land (currently claimed by village and district councils), an even bigger sum may be at stake. Consequently, the process is unlikely to be stalled by the fact that the new master plan clearly violates the Law “On Regulating City Planning Activities.” Under this law, a document of this kind must be created “on the basis of an updated cartographic foundation in the USK-2000 common geospatial coordinate system” with regard to the data contained in land and city planning cadastres. An up-to-date topographic-geodesic survey had not been carried out before the master plan was drafted and the city planning cadastre is still in the planning stage. The law also dictates that “a plan for land and economic organization” is an indispensable part of the document, which requires a completed inventory of land within the city limits and its division into state-owned and community-owned property, but this is yet to be done in Kyiv. In other words, either the master plan, which has cost millions of hryvnias, or the law must be modified.

GRANDIOSE PROJECTS

Here are some of the megaprojects the Kyiv authorities promise to carry out by 2025 along with their budgets (as estimated by The Ukrainian Week) in today’s prices:

27.5 million square meters of residential property – UAH 134 billion

32 new metro stations – UAH 22.4 billion

BusinessKyiv Citydistrict – UAH 16-80 billion

Six tunnels under the Dnieper – UAH 15 billion

Reconstructing sewage and water supply systems – UAH 2.4 billion

A metro line to the Troieshchyna district – UAH 1.5 billion


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