Hopes for new Rīga park dashed by spooks' secret plans

Take note – story published 4 years ago

A campaign to transform an abandoned former Rīga cycle track into a public park has been thwarted after Latvia's intelligence service announced it had hitherto secret plans to build a new headquarters on the site.

Rather than the tweeting of birds and the scrabbling of squirrels, it will be the whispering of secret agents and the restrained hush of classified files being passed from trenchcoat to briefcase that will be heard at the Brivibas iela site. 

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"According to a government decision in 2017, construction of the State Security Service (VDD) building at 207 Brivibas Street in Riga is planned to begin this year," the State Security Service said.

For weeks now a signature drive has been under way from civic-minded activists campaigning for the seemingly abandoned site to be turned into a much-needed public park in the Teika district of Latvia which is currently short of such facilities. More than 15,000 people had signed the online petition in favor of creating a park and activists had even drawn up impressive-looking images of their dreamed-for park.

However, it seems all that effort was for nothing as the VDD already had plans approved to develop the  site - but being a secret service it had kept the plans secret.

"Until now, the VDD was not entitled to disclose information regarding the construction of the building in order not to violate the norms of the Law On State Secrets. In view of the public interest, it was decided to declassify some of the information on the planned VDD development project," the spooks said.

"Currently, the VDD is located in a number of buildings and the premises at the disposal of the service are worn out. In view of technological developments and increasing security challenges, the current facilities of the VDD will, in the foreseeable future, become inadequate... For this reason, the service needs new, suitable facilities to respond to today's security challenges," the VDD said.

Construction of the new building is planned to start this year, it added. A new building was discussed as early as 2008 but put on hold in 2009.

"Over the years, the need for new and up-to-date premises for the service became increasingly urgent, until August 3, 2017, when the government decided to grant funding for the construction of the VDD building at 207 Brivibas gatve, Riga," the VDD said.

Since then, "intensive work" has been carried out on the implementation of the VDD building project, despite the appearance of being derelict and in an extremely shabby state, it insisted. 

"It should be noted that the design of a special service building in relation to the high security requirements is specific, complex and time consuming," it added, in what sounded almost like an excuse for why it had taken so long.

"The public has been mislead by the spread of information that there could have been a park planned in the area. The area in question has never been designated as a green area or a park in urban development planning documents."



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