Vilnius to spend millions on city regeneration but critics remain

Neris riverbank
DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

Around €2 million will be spent on regenerating 6.5 kilometres of the Neris riverbank, transforming it into a leisure zone for the city. The municipality will also allocate €4.8 million to the construction of two new public swimming pools; the last of which was completed in 1987, when Lithuania was still a Soviet republic. Over €20,000 will be spent on repairing 200 “problematic” cycle lanes.

The 2016 budget will upgrade 10 of the city’s parks, and reconstruct a number of courtyards in various residential districts on the city’s outskirts, at a cost of €500,000.

A member of the Lithuanian Liberal party and chairperson of the Environment and Energy Committee, Aušrinė Armonaitė told the Lithuania Tribune she believes that one of the biggest changes in this year’s budget compared to those of previous years is that, in addition to its previous social service initiatives, Vilnius will now finance a new mental health care initiative.

Its aim is to provide better services for residents suffering from mental health issues, and reduce the city’s suicide rate in the long-term. Her view is echoed by Mykolas Majauskas, a member of the Homeland Union – Christian Democrat party, which makes up part of the municipality’s coalition.

“This decision is just part of the bigger picture we’ve put together,” Majauskas explained to The Lithuania Tribune. “We’ve put together a budget which includes €500,000 to be dedicated to public health which Youth Line (Jaunimo Linija), Child Line (Vaikų Linija) and the Crisis Prevention Centre are all part of.

“I think that is an important step and a change in policy compared to what we have seen before. “The previous administration gave no focus to public health and ignored it for a long time. Now we are focusing more on this issue.”

Improving childcare facilities is also a key focus for the new city council: “We are planning to invest more in better services for the city, as well as the city’s infrastructure,” Armonaitė said. “For example, €24,6mn will be allocated to the renovation of 17 schools, and 9 kindergartens.”

This decision will also see the creation of 890 new kindergarten across the city.

Majauskas was also quick to criticise the previous Zuokas administration for excessively focussing on “big projects.”

However, while praising the coalition’s achievement in reducing Vilnius’ deficit and increasing its budget, former mayor Artūras Zuokas maintains that should the current administration continue to focus on addressing “small issues”, then it will lose its competitiveness when compared to its Baltic counterparts in Latvia and Estonia.

“This budget doesn’t represent Vilnius as the capital of Lithuania, and neither does it represent Vilnius’ ambition to be seen as the regional hub and centre. It’s more orientated towards small issues that are less visible in reality.

“So, in my view, Vilnius could lose its status as the [Baltic] regional leader. I don’t mean in comparison to Kaunas, but Vilnius should be comparable to Tallinn, Riga, Minsk, Kaliningrad and Warsaw.

“I think Vilnius could lose its competitiveness when compared with these cities, because they have a much bigger budget and they are investing in their futures.

“We still have a big problem with public transport,” he outlined as an example. “With this year’s budget [the situation about public transport] is the same as it was before, and if we want to attract European Union funding to introduce new and modern public transport, it will be very difficult to do so after 2020 – this money we have to find from our budget.

“The last point I’d like to touch on is that there isn’t enough vision in this city’s new government, about how to see the long-term future of Vilnius.”

When questioned by The Lithuania Tribune whether addressing the “small issues” would lay the foundations for bigger projects in the future, Zuokas replied: “When I was mayor, we addressed a number of small issues. However, these are small things like brushing your teeth every morning. I never said I did good work by cleaning streets or collecting rubbish because these things are natural.

“The city should motivate people to talk about the city and the projects must inspire the people who live here, and make them want to not leave Vilnius or Lithuania for the UK, Ireland or anywhere else,” he said.

Majauskas responded that “the previous administration was notorious for inventing big projects that were financially unviable and not within the city’s financial standing, In fact, it brought this city to its knees from a financial point of view.”

“However, we’ve managed to close down a number of its projects that the city was not capable of supporting, but that said, now we are focusing on soft and sensitive issues, plus the long-term investments that really matter – these include education and public health,” he said.

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