Planned tram line not to cross cemetery, says Culture Minister

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The Skanste tram line in Riga will not cross the territory of Lielie Kapi cemetery, said Latvian Culture Minister Dace Melbarde after meeting representatives of the Riga City Council and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), reported LETA Monday.

Riga mayor Nils Usakovs said that the Skanste tram line will not touch any of the graves, which was a point of great controversy when the plan to create the tram line was unveiled.

Usakovs also said that there is active work for the ELCL and the Riga City Council to exchange land plots. "It is clear that the church cannot be financially responsible for management of a territory of 22 hectares, which requires huge financing," said Usakovs.

He also said that the local council expects public input over the ways the Lielie Kapi territory could be developed. "We have agreed that the church, the Latvian National Inspectorate for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, the Culture Ministry and the Riga City Council will announce a competition of ideas on development of the territory," said Usakovs.

At the same time, Usakovs said that the territory exchange process might be concluded in the near future. There are two possible action plans – the church might receive a compensation worth €320,000 for the territory or offered a new territory in Riga for building a new church.

ELCL secretary Romans Ganins said that the church is happy about the fact that the Lielie Kapi cemeetry will not be owned by the city as the city will have more resources to improve the territory than the church.

Melbarde said that all stakeholders have agreed that a cooperation platform should be established to improve the Lielie Kapi territory and the Culture Ministry is ready to get involved in the process by introducing changes in the law on protection of the Riga historical center and looking for additional resources in the state budget.

"Lielie Kapi is not just a public space, it is a significant cultural site with graves of several outstanding people, therefore the state should participate in improving the cemetery," said Melbarde.

As reported, the Riga City Council has approved a controversial new tram line to the Skanstes Street neighborhood of the city.

The new tramway line would proceed from Pernava Street on to Sencu Street, Zirnu Street, Skanstes Street, and end on Sporta Street. According to initial information, however, the controversial part of the project was that the tram line would go right through the Lielie Kapi Cemetery.

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