Could the "ecological transition" weaken landscape protection? Here's what's being debated

These days the discussion about the Simplification Decree is heated: there are measures in the draft that, in order to promote the so-called ecological transition, could significantly weaken the protection of landscape and culture. Here's why.

“We should be proud to live in a country that, thanks to very old legislation and a widespread presence on the ground through the Superintendencies, basically won the battle of protection in the twentieth century: of the landscape, the coasts, historic centers. Elsewhere it has fared much worse. And the beauty of our country is a great economic force: not only for tourism, but also for the made in Italy that is sold in the world”: these are words that Culture Minister Dario Franceschini spoke in an interview with Repubblica published yesterday, Sunday, May 23. And yet, in these hours there are not a few who fear that the protection of culture and landscape, a principle that has given us the Italy we all know and which, as the minister himself recalled, is protected by Article 9 of the Constitution, is coming under attack that could weaken it. These days, the government is working on a decree-law, the Dl Semplificazioni, which in the intentions of the country’s leading team should introduce regulations aimed at simplifying the authorizationprocess for the “ecological transition” interventions of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRP ).

The idea that “ecological transition” interventions should proceed expeditiously comes from Minister Franceschini himself. “It is clear that, with reference to the need that the PNRR entails to respect the timetable in order not to lose funding, in these days we are discussing speeding up and simplification procedures that will be the subject of a measure that the Council of Ministers will approve in a sufficiently short time,” the minister said last May 20 during question time in the Senate. Franceschini also explained that he is very clear that “the principles of protection are written and established in Article 9 of the Constitution: we are the only country to have among the fundamental principles the protection of the historic and artistic heritage and landscape of the Nation. We think of the foresight of the constituent fathers, who wrote the principle of landscape protection more than seventy years ago.” Dario Franceschini’s reassurances, however, are clearly not enough because the regulations included in the draft Simplification Decree leave more than one doubt.

Il ministro Dario Franceschini
Minister Dario Franceschini

If superintendencies become an obstacle...

In the discussion around the issue of protection, two interventions have made a lot of noise in recent days that have reignited clashes over the role of superintendencies, which have always been seen by a part of public opinion as a kind of obstacle to Italy’s economic and environmental development. The intervention that has perhaps caused the most controversy is that of Stefano Ciafani, national president of Legambiente, who in an interview with Repubblica was very sharp and cutting: “the superintendencies hold back the ecological transition,” he declared. “The superintendencies,” the interview reads, “are and will be our allies when it comes to fighting wild cementification and building speculation. But on the ecological transition we are just not there. A cultural change is needed; it cannot be that every land change is rejected regardless of the superintendencies.” The problem, according to Ciafani, is the superintendents’ noes to wind and photovoltaic installations. “In Sardinia, for example,” argues the Legambiente president, “the company managing a wind farm wanted to reduce the number of blades to put more powerful ones: it was prevented. In Taranto, the offshore wind farm was blocked because of its impact on the landscape, in a city that has coexisted for decades with the chimneys of Ilva, the Eni refinery and a cement factory. Superintendents have let thousands of air conditioners be installed on facades and thousands of satellite dishes on the roofs of historic centers: if you look at Rome from the Garden of Oranges it is an expanse of white circles on terraces, sprouted in the 1990s during the satellite TV boom. However, if it comes to renewable sources, the contrary opinion immediately arrives.” For Ciafani it is a “problem with the training of superintendence managers. Those who have studied in the sacred texts of environmental impact probably consider it a horror to modify the landscape with a wind tower. But the Italian landscape has always been altered: by Roman aqueducts, by domes, by highways. There are things that have to be done well, but they have to be done.” Finally, to provide an example of how to harmoniously bring together renewable energy needs and the needs of protection, Ciafani speaks of the roof of the Sala Nervi in the Vatican, on which photovoltaic panels have been installed: “if this monument had been the responsibility of a superintendence,” concludes the president of Legambiente, “the installation would certainly have been rejected.”

The second intervention is that of Antonio Decaro, mayor of Bari as well as president of the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI), who on Saturday, in Repubblica, signed a harsh letter-appeal addressed directly to Minister Dario Franceschini, to whom a sort of aut aut aut was presented: either the authorization processes will be revised, or the mayors are ready to abdicate their role. It all stems from a specific case: the mayor of Bari intends to build a library in his city, but the Archival and Bibliographic Superintendence of Apulia, according to journalist Fabio Grasso’s report on the “Parresia Cultura” Facebook page, never received the request for authorization from the municipality, although the Superintendence asked for information, but without receiving answers. The case provided Decaro with the basis to submit a request to Franceschini to simplify administrative and technical procedures “to get the country moving again.” “I believe it is necessary to fully define the boundaries and scope of the regulations that are the responsibility of the offices of his ministry and, above all, to avoid differing interpretations across the country depending on the peripheral office called upon to express an opinion,” Decaro wrote. The first citizen of Bari also laments the fact that, in his role as president of ANCO, he receives daily “reports and complaints from mayors about the obstructive and, often, interdictory attitude exercised by the various Superintendencies with respect to the initiatives deployed by municipal councils.” Decaro clarifies, “it is not in any way a matter of claiming for mayors a power that goes beyond the law, beyond the sacrosanct needs of conservation of our artistic, architectural, historical and archival heritage, beyond the necessary action of landscape protection, but of requesting a different and less antagonistic approach on the part of its offices.”

“It is not a matter,” Decaro stressed, “of abdicating or giving up the protection of cultural heritage but of moving from a mannered protection, which at times risks being harmful, to an effective, concrete and efficient protection. Above all, to move from the exercise of a power understood as over-ordered, based on an old managerialist and statist conception, to one that is more collaborative with the governing bodies of the territory, with the aim of putting in place protection and enhancement actions that are increasingly integrated and attentive to individual territorial contexts. Collaboration and sharing within a simplified framework of rules and relationships: this is what the mayors are asking for. This is what our country needs, especially at a time of difficult restart. All the more so today when public administration is called upon to face the demanding and complex challenge of using Next Generation Eu funds.”

And this is precisely the ideological ground on which the foundations are being built for the interventions that will make use of Next Generation funds: the rationale behind the measures included in the draft of the Simplification Decree seems to be to streamline procedures and make it easier to obtain authorizations, but there are many concerns. Added to these fears are those aboutpreventive archaeology, which is also seen as an obstacle (when in fact it is a useful tool for speeding up procedures and avoiding work stoppages): in the last five months alone, there have been as many as two attempts to depotentiate it, one at the hands of the League, which in February presented an amendment to the Milleproroghe decree to limit the use of preventive archaeology, and one a few days ago (a decree of the Ministry for Ecological Transition created to increase the implementation of works related to the so-called “ecological transition”).

L'impianto fotovoltaico installato sul tetto della Sala Nervi in Vaticano
The photovoltaic system installed on the roof of the Sala Nervi in the Vatican

Un archeologo esegue saggio archeologico a Spilamberto di Modena (2015)
An archaeologist performs archaeological essay in Spilamberto di Modena (2015)

What the draft of the Simplifications Decree provides for.

There are essentially three measures contained in the draft of the Simplifications Decree circulated in the last few hours that are being discussed: the single superintendence for NRP interventions, the regulation of demolition and reconstruction interventions, and the strengthening of the silence of consent. The single superintendence is mentioned in Article 12 of the draft: “In order to ensure the most effective and timely implementation of the PNRR interventions,” the document reads, “at the Ministry of Culture the Special Superintendence for the PNRR is established, an office of extraordinary general managerial level operational until December 31, 2026. The Special Superintendence carries out the functions of protection of cultural and landscape assets in cases where such assets are affected by the interventions envisaged by the PNRR subject to an EIA at the state level or fall under the territorial jurisdiction of at least two peripheral offices of the Ministry. The Special Superintendence also operates by availing itself, for lattività istruttoria, of the Superintendencies of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape. In case of necessity and in order to ensure the timely implementation of the NRRP, the Special Superintendence may exercise, with regard to further strategic interventions of the NRRP, the powers of avocation and substitution vis-à-vis the Superintendencies of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape.” The draft decree also stipulates that the functions of the Director of the Special Superintendence shall be “carried out by the Director of the General Directorate of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of the Ministry, who shall be entitled to the remuneration provided by national collective bargaining for interim executive positions.” Again, the draft states that “at the Special Superintendence is established a technical secretariat composed, in addition to the Ministry’s tenured staff, of a contingent of experts with proven professional qualifications [...] for a maximum duration of thirty-six months, for a maximum amount of 50,000 euros gross per year for each individual assignment, within the expenditure limit of 750,000 euros for each of the years 2021, 2022, 2023.” The Single Superintendency for the NRRP will cost 875,000 euros per year “for each of the years 2021, 2022, and 2023” and 125,000 euros per year “for each of the years 2024, 2025, and 2026.”

Article 18 introduces simplifications in urban regeneration, specifically regulating the path of demolition and reconstruction by amending Presidential Decree No. 380 of June 6, 2001. Paragraph 1-ter of Article 2-bis of the Presidential Decree stipulates that, in cases of interventions involving the demolition and reconstruction of buildings, reconstruction is allowed within the limits of the legitimately pre-existing distances, and that the volumetric incentives recognized for interventions can also be carried out with extensions outside the outline and with the exceeding of the maximum height of the demolished building always within the limits of the legitimately pre-existing distances. In homogeneous zones “A” of the Decree of the Minister of Public Works no. 1444 of April 2, 1968 (i.e., urban agglomerations that have “historical, artistic, and particularly valuable environmental character,” or the portions of such agglomerations that can be considered integral parts of the agglomerations themselves), or in assimilated zones (i.e., in all areas that have historical or artistic character) all demolition and reconstruction work is permitted exclusively within the framework of detailed urban recovery and redevelopment plans, which are the responsibility of the municipality, without prejudice to the provisions of the territorial, landscape and urban planning instruments in force and the opinions of the bodies responsible for protection. The draft of the Simplification Decree intervenes to replace in its entirety paragraph 1-ter, which will be amended as follows: “In homogeneous areas A referred to in the Decree of the Minister of Public Works April 2, 1968, no. 1444, or in areas assimilated to them under regional regulations and municipal urban plans, in consolidated historic centers and cores and in additional areas of particular historical and architectural value, demolition and reconstruction work with extensions outside the outline or raising the maximum height of the demolished building is permitted without compliance with the prescribed minimum distances, provided that they are within the limits of the legitimately pre-existing distances, within the framework of special detailed urban recovery and redevelopment plans, without prejudice to the protection regulations to which the buildings affected by the interventions are possibly subjected.”

Finally, Article 42 introduces the reinforcement of the discipline of the silence of consent: “In cases where the silence of the administration is equivalent to a measure of acceptance [...], without prejudice to the effects of the silence of consent, the administration is required, at the request of the private individual, to issue electronically, a statement of the acceptance of the application pursuant to this article. After ten days of the request have elapsed to no avail, the statement is replaced by a declaration by the private party pursuant to Article 47 of Presidential Decree No. 445 of December 28, 2000.” The time limits in which the competent authorities must give their opinion on interventions subject to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) are also narrowed: in particular, the number of days in which any interested party may submit comments to the competent authority on the preliminary environmental study and attached documentation is reduced from 45 to 30; in paragraph 7, a sentence is added stating that “the competent authority shall rule on the request for environmental conditions formulated by the proponent within the period of 30 days with a positive or negative determination, excluding any further interlocution or proposal for modification,” and finally in Article 20 a sentence is added that obliges the competent authority to express its opinion within 30 days at the stage of discussion with the proponent in order to define the scope and level of detail of the necessary information to be considered for the preparation of the environmental impact study.

Il parco eolico di Collarmele in Abruzzo. Foto di Ra Boe
The Collarmele wind farm in Abruzzo. Photo by Ra Boe

What’s wrong with the draft Simplifications Decree: experts’ opinions

What the Simplifications Dl introduces, according to archaeologist Giuliano Volpe, president emeritus of the MiBAC’s Consiglio superiore Beni culturali e paesaggistici (Higher Council for Cultural and Landscape Assets) (who wrote an article about it in theHuffington Post), is a clash between two priorities, namely landscape and cultural heritage protection on the one hand, and clean energy production on the other, both of which are important and inalienable. Yet, according to Volpe, this is an absurd conflict, exactly like those that oppose health to jobs, high speed to landscape, modernization to culture. Is it possible that they cannot run hand in hand? For Volpe, the Single National Superintendency, “equipped with 15 people hired on a temporary basis, in addition to Ministry staff,” “risks being the umpteenth patch to plug a leak and not a structural solution.” Shouldn’t the NRP, Volpe wonders, “be about equipping us with structural reforms”? The sensible proposal of the meerite president of the Higher Council for Cultural Heritage is the establishment of a National Institute of Preventive Archaeology on the French model: in fact, France has had the INRAP (Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives) operating since 2002, which carries out deep and frenetic preventive archaeological research when public and private works are being carried out, and which has 8 regional directorates and 43 archaeological research centers. “While in Italy people are thinking of solving problems by reducing or eliminating preventive larcheology,” Volpe argues, “in France (which - don’t hold it against my French colleagues - has a somewhat less substantial archaeological heritage than in Italy) research is being done, data is being produced, knowledge is nurtured (in recent years, the level of knowledge of history and archaeology has had a real exploit), protection and enhancement is done, and major works are carried out, the country is modernized, and development is created, but without damaging culture or mortifying cultural professionals.”

Yesterday, in Il Fatto Quotidiano, archaeologist Leonardo Bison went into even more detail about the measures that the Simplification Decree would like to introduce. According to Bison, the single superintendency will fail to improve the current picture and will simply result in the “creation of a new executive office in Rome that will deliberate on almost all the interventions related to the PNRR, complete with the possibility of avocating to itself the powers of local superintendencies.” This is not the answer that MiC technicians were waiting for, Bison points out: “the widespread thought in the ministerial ranks,” the archaeologist says, “is that it is an expensive procedure (875,000 euros for the next three years), superfluous and one that risks weakening controls and transparency. In short, the same direction as the entire structure of the Simplification Decree. Moreover, the strengthening of silence-consent (with the time constraints) would put a strain on the ministry’s peripheral offices, which are tried by structural deficiencies. The technicians (often with years of experience and hired through regular competition) learned the news from the newspapers.” According to archaeologist Flavio Utzeri, the centralization and term assignments without competition (those that will be given to the technicians who will operate in the Soprintendenza Unica, who, moreover, taking 50,000 euros a year, will receive more than a regular ministerial official) “appear to be a way of politicizing decisions that should be technical, a typical process of Franceschini’s ministry.” Doubts then arise over the fact that the Unified Superintendency will be headed by the same director-general of Archaeology Fine Arts and Landscape, who would find herself double-hatted on extremely sensitive issues.

According to several newspapers (theHuffington Post mentioned it again, for example, in an article by Federica Fantozzi) there are ongoing tensions between Minister Franceschini and the Minister of Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani, who is pressing to accelerate the procedures, and the Unified Superintendency would therefore be a sort of ploy to resolve friction while trying to keep the needs of protection and those of the modernization of the country in balance. Associations active in the field of cultural protection are already announcing mobilizations and demonstrations in the coming days and weeks: the risk is that protection will fall under the blows of cross-attacks and end up succumbing to deregulation.

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.