Balaton’s waterfront camping sites are being turned into luxury apartments, marinas

December 29, 2017

Balaton's waterfront camping sites are being turned into luxury apartments, marinas
Photo: MTI/Sándor H. Szabó

Translation of article appearing in online daily 24.hu titled “This is how Balaton became the playground of NER (National System of Cooperation).”

Balaton for everyone, this is the most important government position. The lake must remain accessible, said János Lázár at his government info (press conference) in the middle of December. This was not the first time that the head of the Office of the Prime Minister tried to placate fears about Balaton. Already in 2015, he stated that a new utilization plan was being prepared in connection with walking around the lake by December 15th, 2017.  The minister’s words were interesting because he himself proposed the modification to the Balaton law in 2016 opening the way to new projects that would partially build-in the banks of the lake.

Now there is no need for a waterfront rehabilitation study. Only a waterfront utilization plan need be prepared in the case of projects of special importance, the compulsory substantive elements of which have been stricken from the law. Moreover, despite the minister’s repeated promises, the tendency is for companies close to the government and previously unknown entrepreneurs to buy up the most valuable properties along the Balaton shoreline.

What is to become of the camping sites?

Lázár also declared definitely that camping sites would remain camping sites, and that it would not be possible for them to become residential parks. This is interesting because the Strand Holiday camping property in Balatonakal sold at a discount last year was demolished this year. Construction has yet to begin, however, even though the new owner would build apartment houses in the place of the former camping site.

A similar fate awaits the Lido in Balatonszemes and the Venus camping site in Szepezd where, according to the plan, houses and apartment houses can be built.

Within the area of the Balatonfüred camping site construction has started on a 64-unit luxury apartment house. The owner is the local government, but the lease holder is VEX-Holding Zrt., which was created for this project from five different companies. One of them, Gotika Kft. which is owned by the local government, owns 15 percent of the company.  The two-hectare area was taken by the local government from the camping area. The owners will have their own waterfront area and protected views of Balaton and the Tihány peninsula.

The cheapest flat in the Carina Residence is HUF 64 million (USD  245,000), the most expensive HUF 309 million (USD 1.3 million).

This year Lőrinc Mészáros’ company acquired Balatontourist, the company responsible for operating camping sites at Lake Balaton (hardly independent of the HUF 5 billion (USD 19.2 million) of state funds allowed for the development of camping sites). The billionaire mayor of Felcsút could not emphasize enough the fact that his company, Konzum Nyrt., did not purchase the camping sites, merely the right to operate them. And then we reported that the waterfront Strand camping site in Akal had been purchased by Zion Europe Kft. whose CEO is Aladin Ádám Linczényi, a member of Konzum’s board of directors.

Mészáros did not only win but also lost a camping site as well, though true it was not a waterfront one and for this reason Balatontourist will not especially miss operating it. The youth camping site in Siofok-Sóstó was operated by Balatontourist this year as a touristic facility with BLT Group Zrt. responsible for its operations. However, the new owner can decide whether to continue operating a camping site or to entrust it someone else, and it chose the former.  It is interesting to note that in response to our questions, the new owner, Retro Motors Company, said that the area will continue to operate as a camping site, after our article appeared Magyar Idők reported that they did not plan to reopen as a touristic facility the property that is suitable for other types of improvements.

In other words, János Lázár’s words and the government’s superficial actions notwithstanding, the Siófok campsite will not reopen next year.

Not only Mészáros, but István Tiborcz has gotten into the camping business as well.  The prime minister’s son-in-law has joined the circles of the Zala Camping for a fraction of its advertised price. Recently Márk Czéh-Töth, who owns a number of state tobacco retailing concessions in Pécs, founded Standful Property. He has shown up as the partner of Tiborcz’s childhood friend Endre Hamar in other companies.

Marinas built from EU billions

An even bigger business than camping sites is the construction of marinas from EU money, as we see in the case of the Szabadstrand Megóvó Baráti Kör (“Free Beach Protection Circle of Friends”) which, according to data released in response to a request for public information, is presently building or has permits to build 500 slips.

Balatonföldvár is a settlement whose port the local government would like to expand. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were not planning to turn waterfront areas and a park into parking, and if they did not try to achieve this by obstructing local shopowners. It continues to be incomprehensible how in March 2017 the local government bought 2230 sqm from the BAHART marine transportation company for HUF 8 million (USD 31,000). As can be seen on the Facebook page of “Let’s Save Balatonföldvár’s port” (Mentsük meg Balatonföldvár kikötőjét), they have already started cutting the trees for a parking lot in the waterfront beach area.

In Siöfok one of the last undeveloped stretches of waterfront is to be developed as a marina by Divinus Investment Fund Manager Zrt., but it did not receive a building permit from the first-level authorities. (The Hungarian National Bank incidentally recently suspended the Divinius collective portfolio management and related support services.)

Balatonfüred does not want to be left out and will build a marina with government and EU supports in cooperation with the Hungarian Sailing Association (MVSZ) and other sports associations. Together with the expert associations the city plans to build a marina for 150 sailing vessels within the HUF 1.7 billion (USD 6.5 million) town development framework within the camping area.

The local government of Balatonakarattya, whose mayor, Gyöngyi Matolcsy, is the ex-wife of central bank governor György Matolcsy, wants to build a marina in front of the former MÁV (Hungarian State Railway Company) holiday area purchased by the National Bank of Hungary’s  (MNB) Pallas Athéné foundations. The commissioner for fundamental rights, however, explained in a 63-page document why the construction of a marina was harmful to Lake Balaton.

From the report it became clear that the municipal assembly under Gyöngyi Matolcsy’s leadership did not take into consideration the concerns of various authorities when it modified the building regulations. The ombudsman believes the principle of legal security was breached in Akarattya, as well as the protection of national heritage and rights related to healthful environment and due process. In the end, the director of Optima Zrt., responsible for managing the assets of the central bank, told HVG that the previous MÁV recreational area will not be turned into a marina.

Residential communities

The Balaton Law obliges local governments to leave unobstructed 30 percent of waterfront falling within the city limits. However, it did not provide settlements with the resources to realize this. The Constitutional Court gave local governments until 2012 to regulate the reduction of harm following privatization, but nothing has happened since then.

The situation is not improving but continuously worsening. Huge residential developments are being built one after the other, which often provide the owners with their own section of waterfront.

Two residential parks are being built in Balatonlelle at the same time. Both offer protected views and a private waterfront where only those may bathe who live in the luxury flats. Construction of the Lelle marina began in the third quarter of 2017. The homes are scheduled for delivery at the beginning of the summer of 2018. The Lela Apartment Residence has already been completed.  There 83 units ranging from 52 to 160 sqm sell for between HUF 530,000 and HUF 990,000 per square meter.

The two properties have a total of 200 meters of their own waterfront. In January Balatonlelle modified the utilization plan, but mayor István Kenéz told us that this has nothing to do with facilitating the construction of luxury apartments.

He added that these territories were owned by the state 8-10 years ago, that the one was a children’s camp and the other owned by the military. Following their privatization, for years nobody touched them. Now the new owners would like to utilize the territories. The mayor believes on the whole the construction will be good for Lelle.

The building permits are no longer issued by the local governments. This opportunity was taken away from them by the government authority.

In Siófok a luxury apartment house is being built on a two-hectare waterfront site situated the farthest from the city, also with its own beach. The prices of the flats range from HUF 33 million (USD 127,000) to HUF 88 million (USD 338,000).

According to the minutes of a 2014 city council meeting, the council supported the construction of a four-star wellness hotel on this site. Buildings situated on the property are also listed in a heritage impact study prepared in 2015 as having been registered as locally protected buildings.

By contrast, the city mayor Röbert Lengyel wrote us: “The goals of the previous Balaton Law should be suitably encouraged. It would be good if as much waterfront property could be made public and the waterfront areas could remain available to everyone, even if it is privately owned.”

Why is this a problem?

Balaton for Everyone can be heard a lot. However, at present, as we have seen from the summary that is not even close to being comprehensive, the tendency is the following:

The winding up of camping sites and the development of apartments appears to drive the poorer classes away from Balaton. The green areas are being depleted. Construction involves the cutting of trees, in other words the redevelopment of Balaton carries with it serious environmental changes. While camping is good for tourism, it is not certain that this is the case with residential parks. Whereas the owners will probably not spend the entire summer in their holiday home, tourists are constantly making use of the camping properties.

The billions of EU subsidies poured into the construction of marinas do not support mass tourism either. Moreover, these marinas not only take away from the territory of Balaton but their construction poses a serious threat to the environment. It is enough to mention the construction of the marina at Balatonfenyves which has caused a lot of sludge in Balatonmáriafürdő.