THE technical Chamber (Etek) was not exaggerating in describing as ‘criminal’ the zoning decisions that allowed the development of the area near the Peyia sea caves. It was a crime by the state authorities to allow a developer to separate 24 plots of land in an environmentally sensitive area of unique natural beauty for the construction of holiday villas.
What was the rationale of granting this permission 20 years ago? Had Paphos developers run out of plots to develop inland? Would the development benefit the public in any way? The answers to these two questions are an emphatic ‘no’. Preserving a unique area so it could be enjoyed by everyone was of no concern to the authorities. The priority was to help a developer make big profits. Villas on the shoreline sell at premium prices.
The sea caves should have been declared a protected, conservation area because the submerged caves are the birthing habitat of the Mediterranean monk seal, listed as the most “critically endangered” marine mammal species in the Mediterranean by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The area is also part of Natura 2000. In other words, there was no shortage of perfectly legitimate reasons to rescind the building permits.
Etek had tried to stop the development by appealing to the courts, but the supreme court rejected the appeal, ruling that protecting the environment was not included in its mandate. So what environment groups rightly described as the ‘rape of nature’ was ‘lawful’ according to the courts. The Cyprus Republic has not signed the Barcelona Protocol on the sustainable management of coastal zones presumably over fears that projects like Peyia’s might have to be stopped.
Implementing the Barcelona Protocol, Etek said, “would have prevented the crime from being perpetrated against the coast and our island’s natural environment”.
Sadly, the interests of developers have always come first for governments, which invariably cite the ‘lawfulness’ of their scandalous decisions. But as Etek said in its announcement, by citing the ‘lawfulness’ of a decision “we are missing the substance”. It also demanded a review of all permits given in sensitive areas in the past and an investigation into how the sea caves area was included in a development zone.
We suspect the government will not oblige. All of this makes the stepping up of public pressure necessary. Environmental and conservation groups staged a protest outside the legislature during the president’s swearing-in ceremony yesterday, and another was held in Peyia. But more action is needed especially as the political parties, with the notable exception of the Greens, are keeping a safe distance from the issue for fear of alienating developers.