environmental destruction

Trees felled on the shore of a drying lake, to make room for a gigantic watersports centre costing €121 million for the taxpayers

The 43 billion forint (EUR 121m) Katalin Kovács National Kayak-Kenu Academy is being built on the shores of Lake Velence. The lake, which is in danger of drying up, could also be saved with HUF 40 billion (EUR 102m). According to the government agency, the kayaking centre will have no significant environmental impact, but Google Earth archival images show that trees in the area have been completely cleared, except for a strip of forest along the lake. We have obtained drone photos of the gigantic project under construction.

The project sits on the shores of Lake Velence, which is the third largest natural lake in Hungary. The lake is drying up, but could be saved for 40 billion forints (EUR 102m) – roughly the same amount of money that is being spent on the project. However, last year the government considered the plan to fill Lake Velence too expensive, so it is currently not an option. However, there is plenty of money for the water sports academy, the huge construction project benefits the interests of businessman close to Fidesz.

The complex is to be built by West Hungária Bau Ltd (WHB), a frequent winner of public tenders, whose majority owner is Attila Paár, a former business partner of István Tiborcz (son-in-law of Viktor Orbán Prime Minister). Construction started in November 2021 and the academy will be completed, with some delay, only in the summer of 2024.

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Nearly 13 hectares of grass and reed will be covered with concrete and paving stones if the hotel, apartment building and sports complex planned for the shores of Lake Fertő are built.

According to the government agency acting as the green authority, the project will have no significant environmental impact. While the documents show that breeding of protected bird species in the trees is likely, existing habitats in the buildings and paved areas will be lost. The Authority also has some concerns about the landscape conservation aspect of the construction, as the complex will be visible from Lake Velence, but as there will be undeveloped land on the shoreline to compensate for this, the negative landscape impact is considered to be tolerable.

Drone photo by our reader

The government has declared the project to be an investment of major national economic importance. The government could lay down specific town planning rules for the site by decree. Under the new rules, the maximum buildable area has jumped to 40 percent (which in an eight-fold increase), and the maximum building height has increased to 16 metres (a threefold increase).

We would have liked to know at least the scale of the felling, but none of the parties involved would tell us.

Google Earth 2020/8 and 2022/3

The Katalin Kovács National Kayak-Kenu Sports Academy is run by a foundation to be set up for this purpose. The foundation has received 332 million HUF (EUR 846 thousand) in public funding from the Ministry of Human Resources for its operation in 2021.

Katalin Kovács’s husband is Ádám Schmidt, who has worked as the Prime Minister’s chief advisor on sport. In 2022, Ádám Schmidt became State Secretary for Sport in the fifth Orbán government.

Written and translated by Szilvia Zsilák. The more detailed Hungarian version of this story can be found here.