An initiative for protecting the built heritage of Romania

In the last few years we have witnessed the architectural massacre of the historic areas of cities and villages throughout Romania. Countless houses of great architectural value have been demolished in order to make way for buildings whose worth is only financial.

Experts estimate that after 1989 the destruction of the built heritage has been more widespread than during the whole of the Ceausescu era.

We find ourselves at a critical moment for the cities and villages of Romania : maintaining the current status quo for another 2-3 years would lead to the complete annihilation of their cultural identity. There are a number of reasons which lead to the destruction of the built heritage of Romania. It is imperative that they are eliminated immediately through the following measures :

 

1. It is imperative to begin a national programme of mapping architectural conservation areas.

It is unacceptable that, with the exception of historic monuments, buildings which are architecturally valuable, part of conservation areas, are not protected under the law. They can be demolished at will. Despite the fact that the inventory of buildings within conservation areas and their classification according to their architectural value was supposed to be completed in  2000, only a small number of these inventories have been completed.


2.
 It is imperative that the law be urgently modified, so that local Culture Departments   can be overseen by the National Commission for Historic Monuments.

It is unacceptable that the nomination in May 2009 of the directors of County Culture Departments be made by the local organisations of the political parties that govern Romania. Because the directors of County Culture Departments have the power to sign demolitions and building applications within built protection areas and local politicians lack expertise in heritage protection, abusive interventions to built heritage are becoming a common occurrence.


3. 
It is imperative to introduce urgent changes to the law governing built up conservation areas.

It is unacceptable that the proposals to modify the legislation regarding architectural heritage repeatedly asked for by experts since 2006 have not yet been translated into law. These are :

  • a. temporarily declaring built up conservation areas as historic monuments until all buildings within it are mapped out.
  • b. clarification of the expropriation procedure regarding owners of architectural monuments who allow them to become degraded and its application wherever necessary
  • c. designing a transparent procedure for approval of demolitions within conservation areas
  • d. allow demolitions to take place only when the architectural plans of the newly built are available for public inspection
  • e. streamline the procedure that stops illegal demolitions whenever they take place
  • f. punish by law illegal demolitions and material destruction of buildings which are part of built heritage areas

4. It is imperative to urgently amend the law regarding permission for demolishing and building with a view to eliminate abuses.

The following instances frequently encountered in practice are unacceptable :

  • a. Local Councils do not make public planning applications before they approve them. Neighbours and the local community only find out when a house is being demolished only when the bulldozer is already at the gate.
  • b. The institution in charge of enforcing the law has no legal powers to stop illegal demolitions and constructions. This can only be done by the Courts, which take a minimum of 30 days, ample time to demolish a house.
  • c. It is not mandatory to rebuild a house once illegally demolished or demolish an illegal building.

5. It is imperative to increase the number of Culture Ministry employees who deal exclusively with the protection of historic monuments and conservation areas.

It is unacceptable that 30,000 historic monuments and a few thousand conservation areas nationally  are supervised by only 7 people, 20 times less than in 1976 !

It is unacceptable that to this day there is no formal inspection procedure for historic monuments and conservation areas, as required by law 422 of 2001.

 

6. It is imperative that a change in attitude of the management of the State Inspectorate for Construction (SIC) and of the Prefects takes place in order to ensure that the law is being applied.

The current activity of both the SIC and the Prefects, the two institutions responsible for overseeing demolition and construction applications, is substandard. Despite the highlighting of many illegal applications for demolitions and constructions, the SIC refuses to get involved. Also, the only state institution that can legally challenge the illegal acts, the Prefect, often refuses to exercise its authority.

 

7. It is imperative to modify the selection criteria for access to European structural funds, namely article 322, the main obstacle to obtaining  funds destined to preserve urban and rural architectural heritage.

It is unacceptable that out of 272 recent projects chosen to be financed, just one is for the renovation of a historic monument (a church).

It is unacceptable that according to the criteria set by the Agriculture Ministry, in charge of EU Structural Funds, private individuals are discriminated against in favour of public institutions while companies running private buildings are not allowed to access funds.

 

8. It is imperative that both private citizens and non-governmental organizations have access to the Courts.

It is unacceptable that  professional associations, ngo's or  private citizens are not given leave by the Courts to initiate lawsuits regarding urban planning, heritage protection, the environment or the way in which public funds are being spent in a given community.