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Agglomeration - Live it or leave it?

Fresh air, the promise of a calmer life and relatively low real estate prices have caused thousands of people to leave the capital and move into the Budapest agglomeration in the past decades. However, unregulated property developments seem to have turned against the inhabitants. A new modification of the Spatial Plan of the Budapest Agglomeration aims to reverse this trend.

The law on the Spatial Plan of the Budapest Agglomeration was created in 2005, and seemingly ignored environmentalist aspects but aimed to give investors as much space as they needed to deploy residential or industrial developments. The current modifications, which came into effect on September 1, 2011, emerged from the mandatory five-year revision of the plan and are an end to an era of uncoordinated real estate developments.

As a result of the former lazy regulation, huge residential parks and single house areas were often built far away from the town centers. Many of these territories formerly served as agricultural areas and then were relabeled as inland, meaning that the infrastructure development of these areas is far below the inhabitants’  needs.

The modified plan, besides many other measures, requires proximity to fixed-rail transportation for developing residential areas of at least 300 flats or that occupy more than five acres. It also reduces the limit of the extension of city-like inland territories from 3% to 2%. At the same time, it forbids the granting of building permits in outlying territories that could have been developed according to the former regulation, but have not been labeled for development so far. This single measure affects 3,900 acres of the entire agglomeration, meaning that the owners of these territories will have to face a serious devaluation of their properties.

In or out

The population of Páty has risen by more than one-third in the past decade, which made the village in the western sector of the agglomeration a symbol of Budapest’s deurbanization.

The example of Mézeshegy residential park illustrates a common problem well. Despite the 700 inhabitants living there, Mézeshegy is still labeled a holiday resort, meaning that the services there do not include “extras” such as regular waste collection, and residents cannot even dream about a road that would make it easier to access their homes. “The only problem with the new plan is that it is late,” István Varga, the Deputy Mayor of Páty, told the Budapest Business Journal. “We could have prevented such mistakes.”

“When I moved to Páty ten years ago, I did not even know what traffic jams were. Nowadays, I spend hours in gridlock every day, which drives me crazy sometimes,” Varga said, pointing out that the drastic rise of the population accompanied by uncoordinated property developments had lead to terrible infrastructure in some parts of the agglomeration. “If created earlier, property developments could have been harmonized with infrastructure developments such as the M0 orbital ring road,” Varga said.

Local municipalities always had the power to refuse permission for schemes to build residential areas on territories that were not fit for the purpose, but the extra income the new inhabitants meant for local budgets were probably too tempting.

Green aims

The ecologically sustainable use of lands is communicated as one of the primary aims of the modification. Nonetheless, the regulation is not overwhelmingly popular among greens. The modified plan orders an increase in the proportion of forests from 19% to 29%, but does not allocate any sources to establish those forests.

Also, the plan does not outline any tangible steps to ease, for example, traffic on the roads heading to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BLFIA), which occupies parts of Budapest’s 18th district and Vecsés in the eastern agglomeration. While the airport welcomes the idea of developing high-speed railways connections with BLFIA, it was disappointed by a lack of plans to widen the clearway around the airport. Frequent traffic jams here have led to BLFIA being ranked 12th out of 14 European airports in terms of ground transportation on the appreciated Airport Service Quality list. The jams also cause serious air pollution in the area; indeed, ground transportation around the airport produces more significant pollution than ground handling or even the airplanes themselves.

Calmness or loneliness?

The modified plan also has the reported aim of boosting social life in the agglomeration.

“People just move out here and then live apart,” said Father Atanáz, a priest in Biatorbágy in the western agglomeration. It is a common criticism of the agglomerations that a lack of community events makes life there boring and also alienates families from one another.

Mariann Sárváry from Csobánka in the north-western agglomeration somewhat disagrees. “We feel that we belong to a community,” she said adding that they live a peaceful village life there, although there are not enough entertainment opportunities. “However, those living in some new residential areas further away from the village center and its public transport, communal places and cultural happenings, do have to deal with some kind of isolation,” she admitted.

The new regulation aims to handle such problems, too, by practically stopping the extension of villages, a step that intensifies the city-like and family-house areas. A more easily accessible transport system is also destined to put people into circulation. Still, according to Sárváry, choosing between living in a village or in a city is often only a question of faith. “It won’t be perfect anywhere.”