Natura and old mentalities
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.