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Restructuring of the Czech coal mining regions

Milada Hronkova Milo Soukup

Three regions in Czech Republic are structurally lagging behind. These regions are affected by the reduction in coal production and the phasing out of heavy industry, which inevitably has a large impact on their economic performance. In 2017, the Czech government adopted a strategic framework (RE:START strategy) aimed at the restoration of the Ústí,Moravian-Silesian and Karlovy Vary regions to ensure a systematic and long-term approach to solving the problems of these regions.

The strategy, which included a large number of regional and national stakeholders in its preparation, is led by the Ministry of Regional Development. The strategic framework defines seven pillars (business and innovation, direct investments, research and development, human resources, social stabilisation, environment, and infrastructure and public administration) to speed up economic growth and change the economic structure of these regions.

The Czech government has already approved three action plans that consist of 94 different measures across all strategic pillars. Currently, one-third of these measures have been finalised in the regions and Czech Republic has managed to support projects worth CZK 8 billion (data as of 31 July 2020). The preparation of the fourth action plan of the RE:START strategy is ongoing.

The greatest success of the strategy so far has been the establishment of cooperation among the three regions, mainly through support for infrastructure and the modernisation of university educational programmes, low-emission public transport services, the revitalisation of real estate and the regeneration of brownfields, for example.

In response to the new legislative requirements of the European Green Deal, and the climate commitments of Czech Republic, a new horizontal priority titled ?Transformation of the energy sector and reduction of coal mining? has been added to the RE:START framework for 2020. The main goal is to mitigate the consequences of the energy and coal mining transformation and to modernise the economy through new incentives.

“The greatest success of the RE:START strategy so far has been the establishment of cooperation among the three lagging behind regions”

This new pillar consists of three strategic objectives that support the implementation of new productive investments in the following areas: assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises, research and innovation, investments in technologies and infrastructure for a low-carbon economy, digital technologies, decontamination, soil revitalisation, the circular economy and the development of skills to improve employees' qualifications and provide active assistance to job seekers. Following these changes, it is thus possible to link the process of economic restructuring with the process of preparation of the Territorial Just Transition Plan (TJTP) and the Just Transition Fund. In cooperation with the regions, the TJTP and standard measures are gradually being prepared to fulfill the main goal of this process, namely to direct coal regions towards energy transformation, modernisation and diversification of the economy of those regions.

“In the Karlovy Vary region, an EU grant was used to reduce emissions of NOx, SO2 and solid pollutant emissions from the brown coal-fired Tisová power station”

An example of successful implementation is the project of Jan Evangelista Purkyne University in Ústí nad Labem (CZK 700 million). The project includes the construction of a new building for the Faculty of Medical Studies on the premises of Masaryk Hospital in Ústí nad Labem and the completion of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering on the university campus. New teaching spaces and special laboratories will enable the development of new studies at the university.

In the Karlovy Vary region, an EU grant (EUR 2.86 million) was used to reduce emissions of NOx, SO2 and solid pollutant emissions from the brown coal-fired Tisová power station. Another project that has received EU support (EUR 2.72 million, IROP) was focused on the acquisition of a low-floor, emission-free, high-capacity tram connection between the cities of Most and Litvínov (15 km, Ústí region).

The RE:START strategy includes, among other things, measures to support the revitalisation and particularly the resocialisation of reclaimed areas after the phasing out of mining. The aim is to use the Just Transition Fund to implement such focused activities. One of the goals of the strategy is to build on the already completed reclamation projects at Lake Milada or Lake Most, for example, which have led to the development of former coal-mining areas. The attractiveness of the regions to tourists can bring new stability and improve the economic and social situation of people in these three regions.

This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL