Vilnius communities have successfully challenged the practice of the Cultural Heritage Department which refused to share its plans for UNESCO-protected Vilnius Oldtown.
© K.Šatūno nuotr.

A court ruled last week that by denying the public access to the Vilnius Old Town Real Estate Heritage Protection (Administration) Plan, the Cultural Heritage Department violated the Aarhus Convention which ensures public right to information and public participation during the environmental planning processes.

Vilnius communities filed a lawsuit against the department last October after it refused to share details of the plan it was putting together.

"The Board of Judges ruled that the historical centre of Vilnius Old Town is a World Heritage Site with a special historic and cultural value. The local residents and visitors have a right to enjoy a unique cityscape, therefore the Department of Cultural Heritage was obliged to satisfy the applicants’ request and provide them with all the necessary information as it is stated in the Aarhus Convention. The Board also noted that, according to the Aarhus Convention’s objectives and its explanatory documents, the Convention grants the public with the right to access all the information about any stage of the territorial planning and development. The governmental institutions must provide access to the information about how the developments will affect their living environment, in this case, the historical centre of Vilnius," Vilnius District Administrative Court said in comment of its May 9 ruling.

The court also said that the Aarhus Convention, which was signed by the UN Economic Commission for Europe and ratified by Lithuania, is effectively a Lithuanian law and takes precedence over national laws that might contradict it.

Jūratė Markevičienė, representative of the Public Organisation of Žvėrynas Community, said:

"We are glad that 15 years after the ratification of Aarhus Convention by the Seimas and 11 years after the Convention became part of the ES Environmental Law, Lithuania acknowledged that the Convention is applicable to the heritage environments as well. At the same time it is a shame that our institutions had to be forced to acknowledge it only through courts. European heritage and Aarhus Convention specialists were always astounded by the reluctance of Lithuanian institutions of cultural heritage protection to acknowledge people’s right to their environment whenever the cases of heritage or historic sites are in question."

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