President Putin’s Culture Council is to launch a pilot project this year to restore and manage listed buildings modelled on the UK’s National Trust. If successful, it could become the foundation of an ambitious national programme to save and manage dilapidated listed properties throughout Russia. The country is believed to have as many as 100,000 listed buildings, but there are no precise estimates.
Preserving Russia’s architectural heritage is one of the most urgent issues in the country, particularly since most are in city centres where real estate values are skyrocketing and developers are increasingly powerful. Many old buildings are crumbling because the State, the legal owner of all listed properties, cannot afford maintenance. Moscow has about 4,000 listed buildings and St Petersburg around 7,000.
The pilot project will focus on six buildings in small towns of the Tver region, between Moscow and St Petersburg.
“We plan something like Great Britain’s National Trust to manage these historical properties and use them in such a way that they can earn money,” says Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum, who also serves as deputy chairman of the Culture Council.
The National Trust is an independent UK charity that protects over 300 buildings and gardens. Founded in 1895, the Trust invests over £160 million a year. It primarily earns funds from membership fees, donations and revenue from commercial activities; however, it says that a majority of the sites it operates post a loss.
The State will remain the legal owner of the sites in the pilot project but private funding from developers will be sought. The pilot project proposes the commercial development of some sites into hotels.
“These properties won’t be privatised, but they will be run as State-owned non-profits,” said Dr Piotrovsky who also hopes to introduce a lottery system in Russia to help with financing. Dr Piotrovsky is one of Russia’s most ardent opponents of the privatisation of listed buildings. More and more powerful voices in the business community are calling for the sell-off of listed properties.
According to the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society (MAPS), Moscow real estate developers show little regard for preservation laws, and have an insatiable appetite for city-centre sites. Over the past decade about 300 listed buildings in Moscow have been torn down to make way for modern developments. Local officials, whose job it is to protect sites, are often close to developers and corruption is rife.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Putin looks to UK to save listed buildings'