Russia's state authority for project examination and approval gave a green light to the construction of a 400-meter skyscraper in downtown St. Petersburg, considered a UNESCO world heritage site.
The ruling, which concerns technical aspects of the construction, paves the way for final approval of the highly controversial project. It is based on an array of geotechnical, topographic, seismological and ecological studies in the area.
"The studies confirm that it is possible to design and build a high-rise building with a vast underground area and high soil bearing stress at this plot of land," the official website of the project said.
The authorities of Russia's second-largest city approved in September 2009 the construction of the Okhta business center by the oil arm of Russian energy giant Gazprom, within the territory of St. Petersburg's UNESCO World Heritage site. Under a 2001 law, buildings in the area cannot be higher than 100 meters.
Governor Valentina Matviyenko gave the go-ahead for the construction in September 2009 despite strong public opposition.
The project drew criticism from leading Russian politicians, including President Dmitry Medvedev, as well as from international bodies, non-governmental organizations and ordinary citizens.
They said the skyscraper would be a giant eyesore in the midst of the city, hampering access to heritage objects as well as spoiling the city's historic panoramas.
Director of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre Francesco Bandarin has urged authors of the project to find alternatives for the design of the tower.
In May, Medvedev ordered the Russian Culture Ministry's heritage protection unit to "to ensure compliance [of the project] with Russia's international obligations, outlined in the UNESCO Convention."
In June, a court in St. Petersburg rejected a suit against the construction, filed by an activist group, led by the opposition Yabloko party.
The $2 billion project is expected to be fully completed by 2016, with the main tower to be finished by 2012.
MOSCOW, July 13 (RIA Novosti)