San­torini land­mark at risk

Mayor warns of ir­repara­ble de­struc­tion of Vly­chada beach by ram­pant de­vel­op­ment

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY GIORGOS LIALIOS

“What’s hap­pen­ing in Vly­chada is a crime. Ge­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions that are thou­sands of years old are be­ing de­stroyed and not just by il­le­gal but also le­gal con­struc­tion,” warns San­torini Mayor Nikos Zor­zos. “If we want to sal­vage some­thing of San­torini, we need to stop build­ing on it.”

The anger ex­pressed by the mayor of one of Greece’s most fa­mous hol­i­day is­lands is per­fectly jus­ti­fied. Just a short dis­tance from the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site of the Bronze Age set­tle­ment of Akrotiri, Vly­chada is one of the is­land’s most pop­u­lar beaches thanks to its strik­ing vol­canic rock for­ma­tions.

For decades, Vly­chada was spared the build­ing frenzy that gripped so many other parts of the is­land and had man­aged to re­tain its unique charm, un­til a few years ago when four ho­tels started build­ing in the area. Not long af­ter they went up, the ho­tels started bend­ing con­struc­tion laws and it was not long be­fore the sit­u­a­tion spi­raled out of con­trol.

Ac­cord­ing to for­mal ac­cu­sa­tions made by as­so­ci­a­tions and au­thor­i­ties on the is­lands, one com­pany has been ex­ca­vat­ing on the edge of the cliff in or­der to build a ho­tel em­u­lat­ing the tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­tural style of yposkafo, or cave houses. Ev­ery­thing about the project that started in Au­gust is il­le­gal. A team of in­spec­tors from the So­cial Se­cu­rity Foun­da­tion (IKA) and the tax ser­vice who vis­ited the build­ing site to record any in­fringe­ments saw that a struc­ture of 250 square me­ters had been built into the rock, with large open­ings be­ing made at the front in or­der to pro­vide a view of the beach.

“It goes with­out say­ing that no ge­o­log­i­cal sur­vey was con­ducted for this par­tic­u­lar struc­ture, so we can­not know what it will mean if a part of the vol­canic for­ma­tion col­lapses,” eight tourism and cul­tural as­so­ci­a­tions on the is­lands have said in an open let­ter.

The struc­ture is, of course, il­le­gal, but this is not the only prob­lem.

“It is ev­i­dent that it is less than 150 me­ters from the shore­line, the zone where con­struc­tion is pro­hib­ited,” says Zor­zos. “But the is­sue does not end there. The com­pany also has a li­cense to build an­other 400 square me­ters right on the le­gal edge of the zone. I am very wor­ried be­cause that means zon­ing au­thor­i­ties are is­su­ing build­ing li­censes for Vly­chada, and that means the nat­u­ral land­scape is at risk.”

That par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple points to prob­lems with the leg­is­la­tion. In 2012, then en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Nikos Si­founakis said he would be amend­ing a pres­i­den­tial de­cree out­lin­ing mea­sures to pro­tect the is­land, mak­ing it stricter. In its ini­tial form, the de­cree rec­om­mended a 500-me­ter no-build zone along the Vly­chada coast­line. Un­der pres­sure from ci­ti­zens, the Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil of San­torini pro­posed that the zone be re­stricted to 200 me­ters and, even­tu­ally, the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry went back on its word and set­tled for a pro­tected zone of just 150 me­ters.

“This needs to be amended again, and im­me­di­ately, so that all of Vly­chada is pro­tected and listed as a na­tional park,” says Zor­zos. “To­day, 11 per­cent of San­torini has been built, some­thing that only com­pares with At­tica. It has to stop at some point. The state has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect San­torini be­fore it is com­pletely de­stroyed by tourism.”

The open let­ter by the eight as­so­ci­a­tions is in agree­ment: “The fact that ruthless busi­ness­men have turned their in­ter­est to parts of the is­land that were un­de­vel­oped un­til now is one more ex­am­ple that San­torini has reached the point of de­vel­op­ing fur­ther only by sac­ri­fic­ing the last re­main­ing parts of its pro­tected land. We need to make de­ci­sions and take ac­tion that will pro­tect the nat­u­ral beauty of this is­land; af­ter all, it is this nat­u­ral beauty that puts it at the top of the world tourism des­ti­na­tion rank­ings and gives jobs to busi­nesses and fam­i­lies.”

A team of in­spec­tors and the tax ser­vice who vis­ited the build­ing site con­firmed that a struc­ture of 250 square me­ters had been built into the rock, with large open­ings be­ing made at the front to pro­vide a view of the beach.

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