UNESCO chief Francesco Bandarin has urged politicians in Dresden to stop building a controversial bridge that could cost the city’s Elbe River Valley its coveted World Heritage status and to hold a new referendum on the issue.
In an interview with the Sächsische Zeitung on Saturday, Bandarin said a 2005 poll, in which a majority of Dresdeners voted in favor of the bridge, was flawed because it wasn’t made clear to people what exactly was at stake. The UNESCO boss said the Dresdeners should have been made aware of the fact that the building of the bridge would endanger the Elbe River Valley’s World Heritage status.
“The mayor simply came and said we’re building the bridge,” Bandarin told the newspaper, adding that the city of Dresden had never discussed alternatives to the bridge with UNESCO.
The issue has for years proved a sore point between UNESCO and the city of Dresden which is located in the eastern state of Saxony and is a major tourist attraction.
The city authorities have long wanted to build a bridge by the Waldschlösschen (forest palace) to ease traffic congestion. But the plans have provoked controversy from many, including those who feel it will have unnecessary ecological costs and those who feel a tunnel should be built instead. Work on the €125 million bridge got underway last November after months of wrangling within the courts.
Earlier this year, UNESCO rejected a revised bridge design presented by Dresden, arguing that any bridge in the city’s famed Elbe River Valley would destroy the landscape and ruin the views of Dresden's famous landmarks. UNESCO says the only acceptable solution is for Dresden to build a tunnel under the river.
Bandarin said unless Dresden immediately halted work on the bridge, it was impossible to seek any compromises. Bandarin also urged politicians in Dresden and the state of Saxony to hold a second referendum on the issue, even if it took two years to realize it.
The UNESCO chief stood by the UN body’s position that it would strip Dresden of its prized World Heritage status if the bridge was built.
“If the city remains stubborn, then so does the committee,” Bandarin told the paper.