Please allow me, too, to welcome you all. I also extend my warmest greetings to the Mayor, the Members of Parliament from this county, and the head of the government office.
There is always a great deal of expectation when the Prime Minister comes for talks in a city led by a mayor representing one of the opposition parties. We are now in the registry office. I would like to declare that, for obvious biological and political reasons, we are not here for a marriage ceremony – but we do have an agreement. We reached this agreement after fair talks, and we have had a thorough and open meeting. At the same time, the agreement we have signed should be described as ambitious, at the very least. I am convinced that this agreement is unique: it is unprecedented, as it’s highly likely that no agreement in the city’s history has been concluded between the government of the day and a serving mayor of the city.
I would like to briefly inform you about the intentions with which we arrived in Salgótarján today. On a broader historical horizon, we see your city as the last county city in Hungary where one has the strong feeling that it is disadvantaged: that it lost out after the fall of communism. Twenty-seven years have passed since the fall of communism, and we cannot allow Hungary to have a county-ranked city – a major city with the public administration, political and economic weight matching its status – to continue to feel like a city that lost out in the political changes that took place 27 years ago. We want to put an end to this state of affairs. Our main goal has been to reach an agreement with the Mayor which raises Salgótarján from the status of a losing city to a winning city. Together with him we have sought to outline a course of growth which will eventually result in the people here today saying that this is a place which has seized a historic opportunity, and has created a specific standard – a cultural and economic force – which people living here have every reason to be proud of. This is the high expectation which the Government has for this agreement.
We have done this before. I did not think this would be a hopeless attempt, as both Tatabánya and Dunaújváros have set out from the same starting point: they, too, felt like they had lost out with the fall of communism, but they have turned into successful cities. We did it. If you go there now and speak to people living there, and if you look at the figures, look at the quality of life, and look at the investors – Hungarian and foreign – and the students studying there and their parents, you can see that we managed to turn those industrial cities into places which the locals are proud of – both Tatabánya and Dunaújváros. This is despite the fact that a few years ago the situation there looked very much the same as here now. The course that we have outlined is not impossible, as there are precedents here in our own past here in Hungary.
Naturally, in order to be able to reach such an agreement the number one condition was that we talk to each other frankly and openly. Here I do not want to speak about political differences – though they are obvious, and we do not want to deny their existence. We sought a path of accord on which agreement can be reached – between a socialist mayor and a conservative, national, Christian prime minister – which we can both heartily recommend to the people of Salgótarján. I believe that this is just such an agreement. The Mayor spoke to me frankly, and said that if I look at the tax figures for the local economy, the current economic performance indicators and the tax revenues, on its own Salgótarján would not be able to plan the sort of ambitious course of growth that we would like. This is because it simply does not have the financial resources. With astute management – which is no easy task – and by budgeting within its means – which is important to all city management – the municipality would be happy to be able to operate the city at all. And even then, the need could regularly arise – as it has in the past – for operational funding from the Government. There is not enough local strength to enable this city to complete an ambitious growth path. Therefore the city has an interest – and so do we – in channelling government funding to Salgótarján, so that the city can embark on and complete this course of development.
This is not the first time that we have taken action to help Salgótarján. In December 2012, if I remember correctly, here in this city I announced that we would take on all municipalities’ earlier debts. For Salgótarján this meant that – as I remember – we lifted a debt of some 3.5 billion forints from the city’s shoulders, to enable its future operation. This earlier story also demonstrates that Salgótarján is important for Hungary. I would like its residents to know that Hungary wants to see Salgótarján continue to grow and to be a city of which the whole country can be proud. Rather than an abandoned, a forgotten city somewhere at the edge of the world, Salgótarján is a city which Hungary needs. I am convinced that, if we were to ask the Hungarian people, a development programme like this would not only be supported by the people of Salgótarján, but by the whole of Hungary. This is because it is important for everyone that a former industrial city with such great traditions finds its place in the Hungary of the 21st century.
To tell you the truth, it is also important for me personally. This is what I call a genuine challenge. It is indeed a fine task to turn the centre of Budapest into a place admired by people from all over the world, to turn Székesfehérvár into a modern European city, and to give Debrecen the opportunities it deserves. These are fine tasks indeed, but from a professional point of view they do not compare with what it means to me to see the modernisation and growth plans of Tatabánya or Dunaújváros – or, indeed, Salgótarján. The successful completion of this programme is also important for me personally. I signed the agreement with this in mind. I will quote some figures which at first will sound shockingly high; but as we have signed an agreement and agreed to implement it – and even have a timetable for it – please believe these figures.
The first thing I would like to mention ties in with what the Mayor said. When we said that we are going to bring a dual carriageway to the city, as this is the only chance for this region to develop, no one believed it. Yet as I was coming here today I saw that this is happening – despite the fact that earlier no one believed it would happen. Everyone can see that it is happening, and we agreed with the Mayor that now we are going to ask our engineers to plan a dual carriageway bypassing Salgótarján which can then extend all the way to the border of the country. I will also try to come to an agreement with the Slovak prime minister, for his country to create the conditions for quality transport on that side of the Slovak-Hungarian border. As a result, Salgótarján will no longer be at the end of the world; even if it isn’t the centre of the world, it will be situated at an important point on the Slovak-Hungarian axis. I won’t quote exact figures, but we’re talking about funding in the order of 40 to 50 billion forints.
The second important thing was that the Mayor asked for buses: quite a few buses at that – and electric buses, so not cheap ones. We understand this. We agreed with the Mayor that the city’s transport development must be integrated into the national transport and public transport concept, and we shall therefore set up a joint working committee to find the best solution for organisation of Salgótarján’s public transport.
The Mayor asked for 1.7 billion forints for the construction of a new bus terminal and parking facility. We are ready to support this project, including the demolition works and everything else needed: the old bus terminal will be pulled down, and the site transformed according to the Mayor’s plans.
In order to develop industry and the economy, we are joining forces with the Mayor to eliminate the very last industrial rust zones in this city. If we want a bright future for Salgótarján – and we do – these brownfield rust zones do not fit into the picture. And we should not just talk about one or two areas: we are setting out to eliminate them all. We are going to launch an urban rehabilitation programme, as part of which all the brownfield sites in this city will be transformed. According to the Mayor’s estimates, this could affect an area of some 40 to 45 hectares. Those which can be used for industrial production will be, as part of a new industrial park; those which are fit for other purposes will be used for those functions. Here we are talking about a sum in the order of ten billion forints.
The Mayor said that this is all very well, but not enough, and an additional 12-hectare greenfield site should also be included in the project for industrial parks. We agreed on an allocation of 2.5 billion for this.
We set up a task force to look into the possibility of installing a renewable energy production facility in your city which would supply the city’s energy needs. This would not be part of the national energy grid. We should explore what we could do in order to create a local energy supply system for the city’s own purposes, specifically to supply the city with cheap energy. We did not discuss the technical details of this plan, but we are aware of the difficulties and we will decide on this through a joint task force.
We explored the possibility of raising the quality of glassware production to a higher industrial standard. The current factory makes some fine products – I’ve seen them myself. Here we agreed that the Government will give this industrial plant 4.5 billion forints to promote glassware production in Salgótarján.
Following a proposal from the Mayor, we agreed that we should give educational institutions 3 billion forints to create modern educational opportunities in the fields of catering and trade. We agreed on this.
We also agreed that we shall contribute 2 billion forints to the development of dual training that takes account of local conditions.
As part of a separate chapter we discussed healthcare and sports developments in the city. Based on the Mayor’s proposal, we agreed to develop the city hospital, where a new oncology centre will be created. The Government will provide 1.7 billion forints for this.
We agreed that the city has well-prepared plans for building a sports and recreational centre. The original allocation for this project is eight billion forints, but the original plans featured a 25-metre swimming pool, and the Government suggested that a 50-metre pool should be built instead. The Government agrees to cover the maintenance costs of this 50-metre pool for five years, in the hope that in five years’ time the city will be strong enough to carry out this important task itself. But until then, for a period of five years the Government is taking on the operating costs of this swimming pool, which is twice as large as originally planned.
We agreed to create an athletics complex on the glassware factory’s sports field, from a budget of 1.5 billion forints. I asked the Honourable Mayor to also designate a location for a new ice sports complex. I believe that here, next to the Slovak border, this is especially justified –particularly if Salgótarján wants to become a regional centre.
As part of yet another separate chapter we discussed the projects needed to improve the region’s tourism appeal. Here there are plans prepared not only by the city, but also by the county and the region. These would cost some 22 billion forints in total. This would be a complex development, and the Government is not ruling it out: we believe it may well be possible. We have simply asked the city to obtain the tourism agency’s approval for implementation of this ambitious tourism development programme. If specialist approval is obtained – and I hope it will be – we shall place this 22 billion forints at your disposal.
Another chapter concerned the promotion of cultural and spiritual and church life in the city. We agreed with the Mayor to set up a task force, and I also asked my fellow Member of Parliament Mr. Becsó to take part in this work. The task force will seek to assess the totality of church needs in and around the city – including all churches, parish churches, parsonages, and church-run educational and social institutions. In other words, we should have a package dealing with what we should do to develop church life and church institutions in Salgótarján and its environs, with the Government covering the costs. But this agreement will have to be concluded with the church, and the city should only later come to the Government for funding. But as we can more or less envisage the future content of this agreement, the Government can state in advance that we will support such an agreement in its entirety. In a regional centre, everything must be in order: not only the city hall and the sports facilities, but churches and cemeteries must also be in order, so that one may say with pride that this is the centre of a region. So we must complete this task as well.
And this brought us to the most difficult question here: the great adventure that we seek to embark upon together with the Mayor. Before I arrived here, I would not have believed that this is the centre of the city: after all, in Salgótarján we want to create a regional centre, and a regional centre must have its own centre. The question is whether Salgótarján has a city centre which is fit to fulfil the role that it has chosen for itself. The answer is that at present this city centre is not one which can be seen as the heart, the epicentre, of a regional centre. I recommended to the Mayor that we set up a task force to prepare a complete rehabilitation plan for the main square and city centre. Whether we should have old buildings or new ones in this city centre is not something for the Government to decide: it is for the people who live here and their elected leaders to decide. You must work out the details, but the Government will agree to cover the costs, within generous – but reasonable – limits. As a result, Salgótarján may finally have a central area which, I sincerely hope, everyone living here can claim as their own, and can also be proud of.
In order for these ambitious plans to progress beyond the drawing board, we agreed that the Government will, within a very short time, transfer one billion forints for the express purpose of planning. As the local business tax revenues raised by the city are in themselves insufficient to start preparations for these projects, we shall soon transfer one billion forints, and a further few billion forints within a month. By then we will have calculated the exact sum necessary for the design and preparatory work for the projects here. If the city is able to use these funds wisely, and plans are completed which enable a schedule to be drawn up, within the foreseeable future – a year or two – we will be able to see tangible changes in the quality of life of the people of Salgótarján, the cityscape and the opportunities offered by the local economy.
I would like to thank the Mayor for making this meeting possible, and I am pleased to have signed this agreement.
Thank you for your attention.