Natura and old men­tal­i­ties

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In Cyprus, we un­for­tu­nately have the men­tal­ity that if an area is clas­si­fied as a Natura re­serve, then there can­not be any devel­op­ment. And yet, the ease with which ‘ex­perts’ des­ig­nate ar­eas as Natura, con­tra­dict the harsh­ness of those who im­pose re­stric­tions on devel­op­ment.

In a coun­try that is 40% oc­cu­pied, part of the rest is held by the Bri­tish Bases, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites and for other uses, not much re­mains for devel­op­ment, which is not helped by the fool­ish low build­ing co­ef­fi­cients, par­tic­u­larly in the coastal ar­eas. The 15-20% co­ef­fi­cient along the coast is the worst of all re­sult­ing in our coastal ar­eas be­ing filled with hous­ing that look more like mil­i­tary bar­racks, par­tic­u­larly in the ar­eas of Lar­naca and Po­lis, as well as other ar­eas which, with the ex­cep­tion of Li­mas­sol, have re­stricted th­ese ar­eas for projects geared only at the rich.

When ur­ban­ist An­ge­los Demetriou sug­gested the seafront of Pro­taras be con­verted to high build­ing co­ef­fi­cients of 160% and 8-10 floors with large open spa­ces around, it was as if some­one had started revo­lu­tion (which it was) be­cause it up­set the ex­ist­ing estab­lish­ment of an er­ro­neous men­tal­ity. And re­view­ing the lo­cal plan, not only have the co­ef­fi­cient rates not in­creased, but they have de­creased.

When some­one vis­its the popular sea­side re­sorts from Amer­ica to Europe and Australia, one finds tall build­ings with large open spa­ces around. We here have adopted low build­ings with­out open spa­ces, as if we have the vast land ar­eas of Australia. Note that there are new gen­er­a­tions that fol­low who will also have the need for tourism and other land.

But as things change and the build­ing co­ef­fi­cients grad­u­ally in­crease, in an at­tempt to cor­rect the er­rors of the past, in the end no one knows how the ad­ja­cent piece wil de­velop and if a two-floor unit sud­denly be­comes 3 or 4 floors. Those trav­el­ing from Lar­naca air­port can see the “camps” of hol­i­day home de­vel­op­ments that are dull and too re­stric­tive for devel­op­ment. There­fore and in ad­di­tion to in­creas­ing co­ef­fi­cients es­pe­cially in devel­op­ment ar­eas, there cer­tainly should be re­stric­tions im­posed in non-devel­op­ment ar­eas. Natura how­ever, is an­other mat­ter.

Natura, as ex­plained by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, does not mean a to­tal ban on devel­op­ment but a mild rate of growth within a pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment. The Com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion to al­low a min­i­mum rate of devel­op­ment at the Fon­tana Amorosa (Pho­ti­ades) project was the first slap in the face for the so called de­fend­ers of the en­vi­ron­ment, while an­other de­ci­sion on the fate of a fac­tory in Hun­gary within the Natura re­gion, is very in­ter­est­ing.

The ex­pan­sion of the fac­tory within the Natura area over land of 2,085 don­ums (208 hectares) was a ma­jor con­cern for the Com­mis­sion, which con­cluded that it was more im­por­tant to con­sider the new jobs that would be cre­ated, as well as the pos­i­tive im­pact on the econ­omy and the in­ter­ests of the state. That de­ci­sion was iden­ti­cal to other ar­eas in­clud­ing Aka­mas, since the area has low in­come lev­els, with­out the new job op­por­tu­ni­ties al­low­ing migration from ru­ral ar­eas.

The new ma­rina project in Ayia Napa al­most did not go ahead for en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons, while two pro­pos­als for the con­struc­tion of a hos­pi­tal by for­eign in­vestors near the old Ni­cosia air­port had the same fate. Now we ea­gerly await the area to be cho­sen by the in­vestor for the casino, and what ob­jec­tions will be raised by the wise en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, while we also have the com­plaint of the En­vi­ron­ment Com­mis­sioner who re­ported Cyprus (her em­ployer) for the Limni wa­ter­front golf re­sort for which Cyprus will have to pay a fine over the next few months.

So, with­out even con­sid­er­ing the in­vest­ment of 30 mln eu­ros for en­vi­ron­men­tal restora­tion that the in­vestor pumped into the area, the En­vi­ron­ment Com­mis­sioner has re­ported us. Where, then, is the public in­ter­est, jobs and other benefits for the area that has a high em­ploy­ment rate?

Natura and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is for the best, but this should be stud­ied in con­junc­tion with the cost of penal­ties that the state will have to pay be­cause of the lim­i­ta­tions im­posed and the higher cost of ex­e­cut­ing large projects (eg. Aka­mas, Par­al­imni Lake, Vrachia on the Ayia Napa-Par­al­imni road, etc).

But ev­ery­thing is rel­e­vant. We should not abol­ish Natura and de­stroy the en­vi­ron­ment just to fill plots and houses, but the plans and de­ci­sions should be taken within a prac­ti­cal sense and within the abil­ity of the state, and cer­tainly what is of the ut­most im­por­tance is the public in­ter­est.

I can­not for­get when 15 years ago an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist who had been at­tack­ing us for our views on devel­op­ment, as soon as his field was des­ig­nated as ‘res­i­den­tial’, he did not hes­i­tate to cut down the old olive trees dat­ing to the Vene­tians in or­der to sep­a­rate plots on his land, while in time he claimed he re­signed from the En­vi­ron­men­tal As­so­ci­a­tion for rea­sons of sen­si­tiv­ity. This is who we are.

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