MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
A handout picture provided by Okhta Cultural and Business Center public corporation shows a project of a huge skyscraper to be built by Russian gas giant Gazprom in Lakhta, in Primorsky district of Saint Petersburg. AFP photo
Natural gas giant Gazprom's long-delayed and controversial ambitions of building Europe's tallest skyscraper in Russia's cultural capital Saint Petersburg have been revived.
The company in charge of the project announced on its website Monday that President Vladimir Putin's native city had been given the go-ahead for the so-called Lakhta Centre to be built on Saint Petersburg's outskirts near the Gulf of Finland.
Gazprom's project manager promised that the futuristic glass-and-steel structure standing more than 500 metres (1,640 feet) tall will also provide "a number of public services, including stores, restaurants and cafe." But local media immediately grumbled about the manner in which the decision was fast-tracked without public debate.
The structure is even taller than the 403-metre (1,322-foot) skyscraper the city barred Gazprom from building in 2010 near the city centre after a massive campaign by local preservation groups and even officials at the United Nations.
The canal-strewn city of about 4.7 million was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 and soon became know as Russia's "window to Europe" because of both its location and warm reception of Western influence.
The UN cultural body UNESCO in 2010 threatened to exclude the entire city centre of Saint Petersburg from its list of World Heritage sites should the state firm's tower be built at its initially proposed location.
The new site sits on the northwestern edge of the city near the Gulf of Finland in an area that had remained largely undeveloped until recent years.
The project operator said the tower would provide the new headquarters for the behemoth's Gazprom Neft oil unit and other company offices.
The firm's main headquarters occupy a prominent highrise in southwestern Moscow.
Gazprom has a close association with Saint Petersburg and currently spends tens of millions of dollars per year to sponsor its championship-winning football team Zenit.
But scandal hit Gazprom almost immediately after the announcement when local media noted that the decision had been reached nearly two weeks in advance of a planned public discussion on the project.
"Of course it would have been more logical to hold the hearings first and make the decision later," Saint Petersburg's zaks.ru news website quoted construction adviser Alexander Karpov as saying.
"But it seems that considering how poorly the last hearings went, (Gazprom's) project manager decided not to make the same mistake again."