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Karácsony plans include freeze on Liget project

In an interview with independent news portal Index.hu, newly elected Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony said the capital’s municipal council would decide on a freeze on building permits issued for new structures in Városliget (City Park), as part of planned measures in the near future.

Gergely Karácsony at a protest earlier this year (photo: Istvan Balogh / Shutterstock.com)

Budapest’s previous municipal council, supported by the central government, put plans into motion that would turn Városliget into a museum quarter within the framework of the so-called Liget Budapest project. Karácsony said he learned from press reports that the building permit for the new Museum of Ethnography has already been issued, but the permit for the new National Gallery has not.

According to an article by news portal HVG.hu, Városliget Zrt., the firm behind the Liget project, has claimed otherwise, telling the paper that they already have permits for all the planned buildings. The company argued that Budapest City Council has no power over the realization of cultural and recreational projects financed entirely through state funds.

Earlier this year, the World Heritage Center of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) asked Hungary to halt the Liget development, noting that the project has potential for negative impact and recommending that the plans be submitted to the World Heritage Center for review.

While he acknowledged some positive elements of the earlier Liget plans, such as the renovated Olof Palme House and a new playground, the new mayor said that the construction of new buildings would be “foolishness of the highest order.”

Karácsony said the municipal council would also withdraw plans to construct mobile flood defenses along the Római part section of the Danube. He also noted that he would exercise his veto right with regard to his earlier pledge to ban the further construction of sports stadiums, adding that he does not even intend to attend the opening of the new Puskás Stadium, where the Hungarian soccer team will host Uruguay in November.

The new mayor said that he wants to initiate a public discussion on the topic of a congestion charge, adding that more park and ride facilities should be constructed in the capital. In the long run, plans include making first the Pest, then the Buda embankment road free of cars. At the same time, Karácsony noted that decreasing motorized traffic in Budapest requires a careful, gradual approach.

Free travel for kids ahead; Lokál banned

Regarding his public transport policy, Karácsony announced that he will gradually introduce free travel on vehicles of the Budapest Transport Company (BKV) for children under 14 years of age. The first step in this direction will be raising the age threshold for free travel from six to seven years, he added.

Karácsony explained that he wants to give residents incentives to buy annual BKV passes, while the price of daily passes that are popular among tourists may rise.

The mayor also mentioned that he intends to make BKV terminate its contract on the distribution of Lokál, a pro-government free daily tabloid distributed to commuters. He labeled the paper “inflammatory propaganda,” adding that he will do everything he can to ban its distribution in public places. Lokál was introduced in 2016, replacing free daily Metropol.

Orbán pledges to honor pacts made with Tarlós

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has indicated his government will honor agreements made with István Tarlós, the outgoing Budapest mayor who was defeated by Karácsony on Sunday, state news agency MTI reported.

Speaking on Wednesday at a meeting of Fidesz MPs near Lake Balaton, days after the governing Fidesz-KDNP lost Budapest and a number of other big cities in the municipal elections, Orbán told pro-government broadcaster Hír TV he thought the capitalʼs residents had voted for Karácsony, who was backed by opposition parties, because they hoped he would govern better than Tarlós.

“The only thing I have to do is to give him a chance to do that and to provide the necessary conditions,” he said, adding that he wants to see the same “bold and self-confident” manner of governing in future as in the last nine years.

Orbán asserted that the central government had established respectable relationships with all local governments in the past and would continue this practice in future, regardless of party affiliation.