The possible destruction of almost 35 hectares of forests and green areas in Kosutnjak Park, which many call “the lungs of Belgrade”, has given rise to a new environmental initiative in the Serbian capital.
“At first I was incredulous, now I am angry,” said Ivan Nastic, who has lived near Kosutnjak since childhood.
There are plans to build a private residential and commercial complex spanning close to 650,000 square metres, part of the Regulatory Plan to revitalize the Avala Film complex, a former Yugoslav film giant, on 86.8 hectares of park, about 40% of which are green areas.
“Until a few months ago, Belgrade was the most polluted cities in the world, and now they’re planning to cut down acres of forest,” Nastic added. The developer, Avala Studios, says that three times more trees will be planted than the green areas that will be removed.
Petar Blagojevic, an activist involved in the fight against deforestation, agrees with Ivan Nastic.
“I am ready to lie down or sit here all day to defend it…Trees in Kosutnjak must not be cut down,” he said.
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The park covers an area of 330 hectares and is one of the favourite places of many people from Belgrade for out-of-town trips.
Civil organizations estimate that the Avala Regulatory Plan contains “a number of omissions and illogicalities” and that its implementation is “contrary to the public interest”, mainly because of Belgrade’s air pollution.
“Who would be crazy enough to cut down hectares of forest,” said Goran Vesić, deputy mayor of Belgrade, at the beginning of July on Pink TV, adding that “citizens need not worry”. However, it seems that the citizens do not believe his words and that the battle has just begun.
The detailed regulatory plan is still being evaluated and the first public inspection of the study was completed on 13 July.
This means that the developer has not yet received final approval from the Belgrade Secretariat for Urban Planning and Construction to implement the plan as they want, an idea that activists and individual citizens consider questionable.
This plan, among other things, involves the reconstruction of abandoned parts of the historic Avala Film complex.
According to the National Strategy for Culture for the 2020-2029 period, the re-launch of Avala Film” is a project of national importance that should help the development of the film industry.
The proposal entails the construction of a new residential complex with accompanying amenities for 8,000 people and over 6,000 cars, which would create many problems
“Has anyone asked the citizens of Cerak, Filmski Grad and Skojevo what they think about it? Do they want traffic jams, chaos, gas emissions, noise and high temperatures during the summer, instead of a green lung?” activists ask.
An additional risk lies in the fact that the part of the park, covered by the plan, is not considered a protected area.
“This cannot and should not diminish the significance and value of these trees, just because we have not protected them by law,” says Bozena Stojic, town planner at the Ministry of Spatial Planning.
She also points out that “the Plan also states that the trees in that area are healthy and vital and that the air quality in the immediate vicinity is much better than in the rest of the city, precisely because of the existence of this forest”.
Citizens assembled in the Battle for Kosutnjak Association (Bitka za Kosutnjak) told the BBC that “the development of the film industry is only a cover” and that the goal is to build a residential and commercial complex.
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