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Top court rules against construction of ‘nation’s garden’ at İstanbul’s former airport after its demolition

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Turkey’s top administrative court, the Council of State, has canceled a tender related to the construction of a national park in place of İstanbul’s former main airport, years after its partial demolition and the start of construction in the area, the Sözcü daily reported on Monday.

Atatürk Airport had been the primary airport in İstanbul before the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) decided to build a third airport in the city. It was closed on April 7, 2019, with the opening of the larger, $12 billion İstanbul Airport, though with much controversy.

Later, the government decided to build a pandemic hospital in one part of the old airport, destroying two runways, which brought it widespread criticism for damaging a fully operational airport.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had also announced that a garden, which he called a “nation’s garden,” would be built in its place as part of a project funded by Turkey’s Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change.

The tender for transforming a part of the airport into a national park was held in April 2022. The bid, valued at TL 2.1 billion, was awarded to the Yapı Yapı construction company. The demolition of the runways had commenced before the contract for the tender was signed, drawing public criticism. Despite all objections, construction began in May 2022.

At the current stage, the construction of basketball courts, tennis courts and a mosque and its complex on the runways of the airport land is nearing completion, according to Sözcü.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)-led İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) launched a lawsuit against Turkey’s state-run housing authority, TOKİ, and Environment Ministry, seeking the cancellation of the tender in April 2022. The lawsuit, filed with the Ankara 16th Administrative Court, was rejected in September 2023.

Concluding the İBB’s appeal, the 13th Chamber of the Council of State overturned the administrative court’s decision and unanimously decided to cancel the tender.

Stating that the requirement of urgency is sought in tenders conducted in this manner, the chamber underlined that the urgency condition was not met since there were no unforeseen circumstances or specific technical features in the construction process.

The chamber added that the tender, announced as part of the “First 100 Days Action Plan” presented to the public by the Presidential Office, cannot be justified as an urgent task solely based on the nature of being declared within the framework of the program.

The municipality also filed a lawsuit against the ministry for the urban development plan allocating 2.8 million meters of the 7.2 million-square-meter airport to build the park. A recent expert report highlighted that the decision to build the park in place of the airport was found to be inconsistent with urban planning principles. The report also drew attention to a lack of consideration for public welfare and the insufficient examination of the critical role that Atatürk Airport would assume in the event of a potential disaster.

The so-called nation’s gardens are constructed as part of a project that President Erdoğan launched in 2018.

Opposition figures continuously reiterated that the move to close down Atatürk Airport wasted a huge amount of public resources.

Opponents have also criticized the new airport’s location, which is near the Black Sea coast and 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the city center, exposing it to fog and strong winds.

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