Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy approved the Merryland Park development project on Wednesday, after previously threatening to take legal action against the park’s owners for violating the environment law.
Area residents have been fighting for months to halt the divisive project, which they fear poses a danger to their homes and the neighborhood’s cultural heritage. But Fahmy gave the green light after developers submitted an evaluation of the project’s environmental impact, which was reviewed by civil society institutions and the National Organization for Urban Harmony, the state-owned news site Ahram Gate reported.
The Heliopolis Company for Housing and Development (HCHD), the public company that owns the park, has offered investors five feddans of land to renovate and develop, an area that includes the park’s main café and pond area. Developers are planning to build a multistory parking garage beneath the park that could house up to 1,700 cars.
The project will go ahead as long as certain conditions are met, according to the minister, such as using lightweight building materials and taking measures to conserve the park’s foliage and architectural heritage.
The developers will be obligated to build a filtering system for the lake and a new irrigation system for the gardens, in addition to limiting the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. They are also committed to developing the park’s deteriorating green areas, and establishing a new maintenance unit concerned with security and cultural events.
Fahmy stepped in following a flare-up over the park’s development earlier this year. The HCHD had found itself in hot water after photos of felled trees and overturned earth spread on social media, eliciting the ire of neighborhood residents and the Heliopolis Heritage Initiative, a group founded three years ago to preserve the district’s historical buildings, electric tramways and green spaces.
Aside from damage to the park itself, residents in the surrounding villas and apartment buildings — some of which date back to the founding of Heliopolis in the 1930s — also fear that the deep digging could pose a hazard to their buildings.
At the time, Fahmy ordered an investigation to find out who was responsible for granting licenses to conduct the work, and threatened to pursue legal action against Merryland’s owners for violating the environment law by failing to conduct an environmental impact assessment, according to reports.
The minister’s Wednesday announcement seems to indicate that legal measures will not be taken, however. But the statement did add that any breach of Fahmy’s conditions would immediately terminate the project.
The Merryland gardens were used as a horseracing course in the early 1900s, but were nationalized after 1952 and turned into a public park. Merryland served as the city’s fairgrounds in the 1980s and 90s, but has now been closed to the public for over a decade with no formal explanation as to why.