Thank you Mr. Alan Kelly
Now, this is a minister of a country that is enduring (with a better economy than our own) the Troika and an austerity plan, wage cuts and unemployment, but after many sacrifices is now on a growth path with unemployment reduced from 15% in 2012 to 9% in 2015 and a growth rate rising from zero to 4% in 2016.
I want to return to the debate about urban development measures and seeing the economic situation of Cyprus we seem to be living with our heads in the clouds. The highly paid semi- and government employees are once again making noise about reinstating their wages, the dreaded cost of living allowance (COLA), etc., while private sector workers who have carried the burden of restructuring the economy, remain ignored, with 50,000 still unemployed. At the same time the unions demand that they shape the economic policy of the state, with the political supporting their every move. So what if the Troika does not give us the final 500 mln euros in aid, if we simply do not go ahead with privatisations, a party leader retorted. Even if the Troika is lending to us with an interest of 1.5%, would we be better off going to the markets and borrowing at 4.5% and let the Cypriot tax payer carry the burden?
The Irish seem to be more patriotic than us Cypriots and they set one goal, to rid themselves of the Troika programme. Among these non-patriots are some highly paid public officials with expensive limos and drivers, but do not seem to have any qualms to be the reason for unnecessary fines imposed on the Republic that we citizens have to pay through our taxes. Now we have the Akamas quandary that will not be solved because we have a small group of self-proclaimed environmentalists who object to reduce the area of the Natura scheme within the national park, even if it costs us an additional 700 mln euros that the state currently does not have, in addition to the 5 mln annual upkeep cost.
As regards the mentality that prevails on these issues, I refer to the mentality that prevails in some government departments, mainly in the Town Planning Dept. (and the ETEK technical chamber that likes to remind itself that it is the adviser to the State) that remains silent over the proposals for “affordable” urbanisation.
In addition to the Akamas plan and the non-viable ideas I have been criticising for the past 20 years, we now have to deal with new requirements of minimum areas for apartments. Irrespective if a family can afford to buy a two-bedroom apartment or not, the area is set at a minimum of 80 sq.m. So, our technocrats have regulated by law how many square meters Cypriot citizens should live in, irrespective if it is affordable or not. We also have requirement for parking spaces regardless if the project lies within the central confines of towns and if there is no land in order to build parking spaces on, simply to allow the local municipalities to charge 3,000 to 5,000 euros per “virtual” space that will never be granted. Therefore, with the small plot sizes that exist in city centre residential areas, and despite government social policies for “cheap” housing, any effort to revive the economy through this additional measure has failed.
So for the sake of comparison, concerning the minimum sq.m. in Ireland, I present the following table:
The issue of our minimum areas is particularly evident in the tourist / residential apartments where a high proportion are foreign buyers (in 2008 45% of demand by foreigners, while in 2015 it was 27%), a rate which is very high suggesting the basis of our construction industry.
If we compare two projects which are under our own management, the Ayios Elias in Protaras with 2-bedroom apartments of 60 sq.m. and another in Larnaca with an area of ??80 sq.m., we find that there is a difference in the selling price of around 40,000 euros, including VAT, transfer fees and construction costs. While the first project due its low selling price has a long waiting list of buyers with demand for resales at higher prices, while in the second we see new units for sale offered at 30% less than the demand.
It is the latest fashion for someone to report the matter to the Auditor General, but should be the basis for the complaint: narrow- mindedness, indifference, stupidity, what? “Get real,” said Environment Minister of Ireland and perhaps we should borrow the phrase to study the tragic state of our urban planning.
Since I have been writing about this subject for 15 years with the suggestion that flawed decisions by government officials should be rewarded in the form of compensation, perhaps whoever heads the Town Planning Dept. and others with similar ideas (including and the state advisor) should adopt the recommendation for compensation. This may be a theory, but we should start from somwhere.
In my last argument with public officials it stated that “Cypriot should live in decency, not in holes”. So, I ask, why not place a limit on what is the minimum requirement for a Cypriot to buy a mini-car, and opt for a larger Mercedes, because Cypriot should not only live but also drive “decently”.