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Green activists are protesting the possible cutting down of up to 71 trees at a Tbilisi construction site. Local activist group Guerrilla Gardening Tbilisi expressed concern after being alerted that a number of trees had already been cut down near Vazha-Pshavela Avenue.
The company developing the site, IG Development, denies that there are any plans to cut down trees. However, documents acquired from the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office by Liberali show that the company applied for permission to cut down as many as 71 trees.
Nata Peradze, a leader of the Guerrilla Gardening movement visited the construction site on 24 October where she was met by Levan Meskheli, director of IG Development. Meskheli denied that the company has cut down any trees and promised to allow journalists and activists to visit the site to confirm this. When they attempted to do so however, they were barred from entering by security guards.
The Department of Environment and Green Spaces at the Mayor’s Office told Liberali that the company was granted a permit to cut several diseased and dead trees in September 2017; they did not specify how many. A correspondence between IG Development and the Department of Architecture acquired by Liberali show the number is as high as 71.
The correspondence between IG Development and the Architecture Department shows that the company has already appealed for permit to cut down dozens of trees. The Mayor’s Office states that there are 235 trees on the area, some of which are included on the Red List of protected species.
In a correspondence dated 17 October, the Mayor’s Office asks IG Development to clarify how many trees they wanted to cut down.
‘It is unclear how many trees you intend to cut, because you have a permit for 71 trees but state that only 69 must be cut’, it says.
IG Development applied to the Mayor’s Office in 2014 to build a multifunctional complex, including a four-storey shopping centre, nineteen-storey office space, and a two-storey car parking to accommodate 1,000 cars.
The company does not yet have a construction permit, but have already begun demolishing buildings at the site.
[Read more about construction projects in Tbilisi: How and why a piece of central Tbilisi was sold for ₾1]
Cutting down trees in Tbilisi
The Mayor’s Office has repeatedly come under fire from environmental activists for allowing trees to be cut down in the capital. In September 2016, green activists angered by dozens of trees being cut down along Kazbegi Avenue held protests for over a week. Guerrilla Gardening leader Nata Peradze was hospitalised after 7 days on hunger strike.
Environmental issues were a hot topic during Tbilisi’s recent Mayoral elections, with all major candidates promising to make Tbilisi greener.
Outgoing Mayor Davit Narmania made headlines in 2014 when he promised to plant one million trees by 2017. He subsequently faced backlash after hundreds of saplings started to die because of improper care.
Narmania’s administration came under frequent criticism from green activists for giving priority to investment projects and for improper city planning.
[Read on OC Media: Lack of care and forethought hold back Tbilisi’s development projects]
This included protests against the controversial Panorama Tbilisi project, which was presented in 2013 by then–Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Mayor elect Kakha Kaladze has been a vocal supporter of Panorama Tbilisi, claiming the city needs more such projects.
[Read more about local elections in Georgia: Kaladze elected Tbilisi Mayor as Georgian Dream wins landslide nationwide]