New protection rules for heritage sites gives owners more flexibility

Raekoja plats in central Tartu.
Raekoja plats in central Tartu. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Historically, buildings in Tartu and throughout Estonia required both interior and exterior preservation. Currently, however, categories that permit more lax protection have been developed.

On the initiative of the Department of Cultural Heritage, Tartu will shortly implement new protection requirements for buildings that do not require the preservation of their original interiors and, in some cases, exteriors. Egle Tamm, the director of the Tartu City Government's heritage protection department, explained that the new Heritage Protection Act and the Tartu Heritage Protection Area's protection regulations divide the city's buildings into three categories: A, B, and C.

"Previously, there were no protection categories and virtually all buildings were in protection category A, which meant that the interior and exterior of each structure had to be treated. Now, only a handful of buildings will remain in category A, while the majority will fall into categories B or C. This means that the buildings will require exterior protection. Only the exterior appearance of category B buildings and no longer category C buildings are subject to authorization and design," Tamm explained.

Tamm said that there are now only a handful of category A structures in Tartu and there are about 200 B and C category buildings.

"The reason is to decrease administrative load and to focus more accurately on the objectives of heritage preservation, on what is valuable in the cultural protection area," she said.

Kersti Siim, chief conservation officer at the Estonian Heritage Board, said that protected buildings vary greatly in value and the new law gives more flexibility.

"In the past, you had to negotiate with the heritage authorities regardless of the building's interior or exterior. Now, however, smaller properties in the rear and less significant structures in terms of heritage preservation have been downgraded," Siim said.

Egle Tamm of the city administration of Tartu said that the three new protection categories do not make compliance with the law more challenging. Nevertheless, if the owner wants to rebuild the building in accordance with the Building Act, a project must be prepared.

"The purpose of professionals is to provide advice. And the owner is not required to know precisely which items are valuable and which are not," Tamm added.

In the spring of 2021, the new proposed protection regulations for the Tartu heritage conservation area were available for public comment. Kersti Siim explains that the proposed law contains more than just the three protection categories.

Previously, there was only a buffer zone in the heritage conservation area, with no distinct view sectors, for instance. Now, however, view sectors have been established, such as from Narva Hill down towards the Town Hall, where significant landmarks such as St. John's Church and the Town Hall are visible. Even from a greater distance, on the Tallinn side of the road as one drives towards Vorbus, there is only one view sector for a considerable distance.

In Pärnu, the new protection law is already in effect, while in Tartu, government approval is still pending and in Tallinn, the public consultation period for proposed legislation concluded at the end of July. Viljandi, Kuressaare, Paide, Haapsalu, Lihula, Võru, Rebala, and Rakvere are also undergoing changes to their protection regimes. Due to a shortage of resources, the protection regime in Sillamäe could not be upgraded.


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Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa

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