Jakub Banaszek: For me, Chełm is the "Mountain of Opportunities"

Jakub Banaszek: For me, Chełm is the "Mountain of Opportunities"

Interview with the Mayor of Chełm, Poland

Jakub Banaszek has been the mayor of Chełm since 2018. He was born in 1991 and raised in Chełm, before graduating from Warsaw University in Law.

Despite his young age, he has political experience in various positions, including assistant to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health, a special advisor to Prime Minister, a Chief Political Advisor to Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology. Finally, he has also served as a councillor of Ochota district in Warsaw.

Mr Banaszek, would you introduce your city briefly and tell us why you love it?

Chełm is a magical city located on one of the Chełm hills which are built from chalk and from which its name comes from. Our city has been shaped for about 1000 years by the multinational surrounding. It has had close contact with the Eastern and Western European culture thanks to being located at the intersection of important routes and thanks to the abundance of such an important natural resource as chalk.

The remaining of the natural heritage includes unique in the European scale underground corridors under the old town and a rich history reflected in the interesting architecture. Chełm is the largest city located on the eastern border of the European Union and on an important trade route, which is the gateway between the East and the West.

Therefore, for me, Chełm is the "Mountain of Opportunities" which offers huge hidden potential. These tourist and economic capabilities have not been properly developed so far, and which – with the right commitment and determination – can turn Chełm into a prosperous, vibrant and attractive city for young people.

Chełm is, however, primarily my place on earth – the place where I was born and brought up, which I love and have a great sentiment for. I feel that I should give it as much as possible and I undertake dynamic actions to fulfil my promise to citizens.

ChelmChełm is a city of over 60 thousand inhabitants. As a border city, it plays the role of an industrial, service and transit centre. Photo: Chełm Tourist Information Center

You graduated in Warsaw and started your political career very young. What made you decide to return to your hometown and run for mayor?

Politics, besides law and management, is the field that has always fascinated me. This led me during my studies to my involvement in local government activities in Warsaw, cooperation with the at that time Minister of Health Konstanty Radziwiłł, Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Jadwiga Emilewicz.

The experience gathered this way and the inner feeling of being ready to take up an ambitious challenge coincided with the local government elections in my beloved city. I felt that I was properly prepared to get Chełm out of a terrible situation.

It is sad, but in the last 30 years, Chełm has suffered first as a result of the economic transformation and then the administrative reform. The consequence of these phenomena was an increase in unemployment and economic migration, which led to the depopulation of the city that continues to this day.

In my opinion, the last years of the functioning of the local government in Chełm were a ubiquitous apathy. There were no project or concepts which could try to counteract migration. Instead, the debt grew constantly. Today, almost two years after assuming the office, I can say that the local government was in a more difficult position than it was presented to the public. The situation was difficult, but I feel satisfied with what has already been achieved and I am excited about the interesting and innovative projects that we are preparing.

As you mentioned, Chełm is lying on an important transport route. How do you intend to mobilize this potential? Shall we expect any regional projects soon?

The location of Chełm near the border of the European Union, on the international transport route Berlin-Warsaw-Kiev, and more broadly on the silk route leading from Europe to China, offers enormous, so far unused opportunities, which should be one of the driving forces of the economic development of the city and region.

That is why, together with the Member of European Parliament – Beata Mazurek, we initiated the establishment of a railway company that, with government support, will use the potential of the broad-gauge line running from the East to Chełm. The company has already been registered and will soon transport and store goods using the infrastructure available in Chełm.

Earlier, the investment areas near the railway line were bought by the governmental Industrial Development Agency (ARP), which plans to build a logistics hub for distributed goods.

As Mayor of Chełm, I also support entrepreneurs who invest in Chełm due to the location potential of the city. This was the case with the new logistics centre of one of the local entrepreneurs, it was also the case with the tire recycling company cooperating with such countries as the Russian Federation or Ukraine.

We have encouraged both companies to undertake projects, by granting them tax allowances and supporting them in the preparation of projects. All these activities generated a total of about 70 new jobs. We constantly negotiate with new investors who, thanks to our marketing team, appreciate Chełm and its potential. I hope to pass on more good news on this matter to the residents in the near future.

Would you tell us more about the new headquarters of the Institute of Medical Sciences that will be constructed in the city? What benefits of this “medical town” for the city and its inhabitants do you expect?

This is one of my most important pre-election promises and an extremely important project for the future of the city. On the one hand, its aim is to stop emigration and attract young people to stay in Chełm, offering them attractive training conditions and providing employment prospects. On the other hand, it is a response to the challenge faced by the health care system both in the region and in the whole country, i.e. counteracting the growing deficit of human resources in the medical professions.

It is also a chance to raise the position of Chełm to the status of an academic city and the socio-economic development related to the functioning of the academic campus. Thanks to the support provided by the government, the local university – Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Zawodowa w Chełmie, which co-creates the medical town project, has already announced a tender for the design and construction of the seat of the Institute of Medical Sciences. Ultimately, the campus will also include a student dormitory and an academic clinic.

What digital and smart solutions exactly do you intend to introduce to make the administration more effective?

Unfortunately, many years of negligence in this field force us to undertake dynamic actions catch up that what should have been done many years ago. In many cities, queuing systems are something normal, while in Chełm residents still line up in traditional queues, and the workflow of documents is still done in a paper form.

The solution to this problem is the project regarding digitization of the office, for which the city intends to obtain 85% co-financing from European funds. The digitization project assumes the replacement of ICT equipment, the modernization of the system of the electronic workflow of documents, the electronic registry office, as well as the installation of queuing machines.

We have submitted for evaluation the application for co-financing from the Regional Operational Program of the Lubelskie Province and we are waiting for the decision. There is a good chance that we will get a subsidy and start implementing e-services later this year.

You have proposed several measures to attract investors and promote business. Tell us which are the most important?

One of the key projects in this field is mentioned earlier company PKP Linia Chełmska Szerokotorowa which will support the development of the transport and reloading of goods along the broad-gauge railway line running from the border with Ukraine (there are technical differences between railway in the Eastern and Western Europe). I hope that the company's operations will boost the local economy and have a positive impact on the profits of domestic companies. This should revive not only the city but also the whole region.

Chełm will also be distinguished by a logistics hub, which will be created thanks to the cooperation of the city with the governmental Industrial Development Agency, at the newly created railway transport company.

Modern infrastructure will be used for the storage and distribution of goods, both exported by Polish entrepreneurs and those that come to us from across the eastern border. The hub will be built in areas that have been used for many years neither by the city and potential investors.

The project described involves also the construction of highly specialized office spaces. We hope for attracting capital in the shipping industry and new jobs, additional budget revenues and the above-mentioned economic impulse through cooperation with local entrepreneurs.

An important project is also the construction of the Chełm Economic Activity Centre, which will be the most modern office and industrial facility both in Chełm and in the former provincial cities of the Lublin region. We have recently selected a contractor for this investment, which will cost almost 30 million PLN and will start this year. Currently, there is no place in Chełm where young, ambitious and inventive entrepreneurs could develop their businesses. The Chełm Economic Activity Centre will create favourable conditions for developing businesses, especially for young companies, facilitating their start. I hope that this project will contribute to the development of innovative, creative industry and will positively affect the city's economy.

You have promised quite an ambitious list of around 50 measures to improve the social and economic life in the city during your term in office. Realistically speaking, what are the main projects or initiatives that should be completed by the end of the year?

Some of these ideas have already been implemented. During the first six months of my presidency – following an audit of the city’s main areas – many steps were taken to get the city out of its enormous debt.

The implementation of the package of corrective measures improved the situation of municipal companies, which generated losses for years, and the structural reorganization of administration allowed to reduce costs of maintaining the city’s office.

In cooperation with the government, we managed to launch the agendas of the Polish Development Fund (June 2020) and the National Health Fund (October 2019), which already employ about 50 people, and will ultimately provide an attractive job to 100 residents of our city.

I promised to repair many years of negligence in the field of road infrastructure and I am consistently fulfilling this obligation. Despite the difficult situation, we managed to finalize the projects which had been initiated earlier and in 2019, thanks to the government subsidy, I renovated the first street.

This year we will complete the reconstruction of another five roads, for which I obtained 80% co-financing from the Local Government Roads Fund, another four roads from the same source with 70% co-financing, and for the renovation of another four we have announced tenders and we will start these investments later this year. We also prepare project documentation for the renovation of subsequent roads, for which we will want to obtain funding.

We have also started work on the "Southern Chełm Bypass" project – next year a tender for its implementation in the design and build formula should be launched. In cooperation with the local university – Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Zawodowa w Chełmie and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, we managed to sign a contract for the construction of the Medical Town with a subsidy of PLN 28 million. We have also initiated several smaller projects, such as the purchase of training planes for the PWSZ Aviation Centre.

We have prepared several pro-social projects for which we applied for funding from external sources. These include the revitalization and adaptation of the historic Michalenka mill in the centre of Chełm into a new cultural centre with a theatre and cinema hall, a gallery and a café, the creation of a modern and interactive Cultures Dialogue Center Góra Chełmska (Chełm mountain) in the former Palace of the Uniate Bishops, revitalization of doctor E. Łuczkowski's square and adjacent streets and the city park, digitization of the office and the introduction of e-services for residents.

We are also preparing a multidimensional project called Green City, as part of which we want to revitalize the city's green areas, purchase modern transport vehicles, or prepare new city monitoring. We have engaged residents and local experts in the project who, through consultations in various forms, diagnose the city's needs, give their opinion on proposed solutions and submit their ideas.

This multi-component project developed in this way will be the basis for applying for its 100% financing from Norwegian funds. We hope to obtain 10 million EUR.

This is one of the most important projects for our city in recent years. On the one hand, it gives huge prospects for social participation in the development process of Chełm, on the other, in many areas, it can be a civilization leap for our city, as well as the basis for a future development strategy.

We are gradually and constantly reducing the costs of living in our city. As the only local government in the province, we have not raised taxes for 2020 and have adopted one of the lowest fees for waste collection in Poland, while this tariff increased at least twice in almost all other local governments.

We are preparing a reduction in the rate of fee for water supply and the abolition of the fee regarding merchants on town’s land. We have maintained public transport tickets at the current level, and we have granted new groups of passengers the right to free travel, which  – with the dynamically progressing improvement of the financial results of the Public Bus Company in Chełm – is a step towards the planned free transport in the city.

Many projects still have to be implemented, but I believe that most of them will be finalized by the end of my term of office.



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