Tartu mayoral candidates debate governance, green space, bike lanes

Tartu election debate on October 13, 2021.
Tartu election debate on October 13, 2021. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

City management and urban development were discussed by Tartu's mayoral candidates at a debate on Wednesday night.

The debate was hosted by ETV and featured candidates from Reform, Center, the Social Democrats (SDE), Isamaa, Eesti 200, EKRE and the Greens.

Tartu is Estonia's second biggest city with a population of almost 100,000 people. The Reform Party has long been the most popular.

The local elections are currently taking place and Sunday will be the final day of voting.


Eesti 200's Kristina Kallas said the Reform Party has been in power for 24 years but the party no longer governs innovatively. She said there needs to be more investment in new jobs and development.

"It is a felt in Tartu that everything is going well, but the risk of Tartu's marginalization is quite high today," she said. 

Kallas said Tartu needs to be able to attract people to the city long-term, not just to study and then leave.

Lemmit Kaplinski (SDE) said one of the city governments' successes is that councilors agree with each other and they have good cooperation.

"Tartu council has 49 members and almost all of the decisions that have gone under my hammer have been made with the votes of more than 40 commissioners," he said. 

However, Isamaa's Tõnis Lukas said these decisions sometimes come at the expense of Reform's partners as the party has pursued its own interests.

Kaplinski said Tartu needs to present itself to the world as an open city. He said this means ruling out a coalition with EKRE.

Taxpayers moving out of city

Center Party candidate Jaan Toots said the city's border is shifting and concerns about schools, kindergartens and transport are growing. 

The city's population has shrunk by 5,000 people in the last four years but the same amount of people still use the city's infrastructure. "They have not disappeared from the city," he said. 

Lukas said Tartu taxpayers are moving out of the city and further into Tartu County. This also means their taxes follow them even though they continue to use the city's infrastructure.

Mayor of Tartu Urmas Klaas (Reform) said issues related to suburbanization are best solved within one municipality. 

Kallas said continuously expanding the city will not solve these problems. "The role of the City of Tartu should be to work with Tartu County and the surrounding local governments," she said.

Johanna Maria Tõugu (Green) said people are move out of the city because there is not enough green space. This should be addressed in order to solve the problem of urban sprawl, she said.

EKRE candidate Loone Ots said one of the reasons why small municipalities do not want to join Greater Tartu is the cost of services. 

"For example, high fees for kindergarten places, which in some municipalities is €10.30 compared to €81 in Tartu," she said. 

Cycle paths and green spaces

The debate also turned to the creation of new cycle paths and green space.

Klaas said Tartu needs to move forward with the development of public transport and new opportunities for cycling and pedestrians.

"Today we are in a situation where these groups of road users must be safely separated and given safe traffic corridors," he said. 

Kaplinski said a tramline can also be built with the help of EU structural funds. 

Kallas said Tartu's bicycle strategy has low ambitions as its implementation goal is 2040.

Lukas said it is necessary to add small bus lines to the transport network. He said, currently, the biggest threat is unsafe bicycles and scooters. 

Ots said an important issue is connecting Annelinn residents with the city center and suggested additional shuttle buses.

Additionally, Lukas said new air connections are needed from Tartu Airport, ideally to Riga and Germany. Tõugu said a rail connection with Riga should be given priority.

The candidates also discussed pay rises for cultural workers.

Last week, the location of Tartu's new culture center SüKu created a heated debate among candidates.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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