Cyprus Mail

‘No turning back time for sea caves’ minister says

Some of the developments at the sea caves that have caused an outcry

By George Psyllides

THE clock cannot be turned back on controversial developments at the sea caves area in Peyia, Paphos, and authorities can only limit the damage by rectifying some illegalities and take steps to avoid them in the future, Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis said on Thursday.

This was the decision taken by a ministerial committee decided on Thursday, but it will not really affect two major developments that have already been licensed.

The meeting was called after the public outcry prompted by the approval of two projects in the area, one skirting the boundaries of the Akamas national park, as well as other Natura sites in Cyprus, which have not been properly and adequately assessed by the environment department.

The broad meeting, attended by the ministers of agriculture and interior, as well as the heads of all relevant departments, decided to draft an environmental impact study within three months.

“Depending on the findings, the authorities will look into, where appropriate, extending the current coastal protection zone to minimise the effect of human activity on the area’s sensitive habitats and at the same time ensure the safety of any structures and people,” an official announcement said.

However, the measures will not greatly affect two major developments in the area, a number of villas constructed by Leptos, and a huge project by Korantina Homes further west, which involves a luxury hotel and some 40 villas.

The meeting heard that some eight irregularities will have to be restored at the Korantina project, including kiosks, a lifeguard tower, and rock work. The ministers were assured that the projects are not expected to have irreversible effects on the area’s environment.

The submerged and partially submerged sea caves are the birthing habitat of the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus), which is listed as the most “critically endangered” marine mammal species in the Mediterranean by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Minister Kadis told the Cyprus Mail that he was determined to apply Thursday’s decisions to prevent this from happening again.

“I am determined to do whatever necessary to avoid similar issues in the future and ensure what has been done won’t do any further damage,” he told the Cyprus Mail. “Unfortunately, no one can turn back time.”

The area where the Leptos development is being constructed had been rezoned in 2008 nine days before the presidential elections by then interior minister Christos Patsalides.

Patsalides defended his action arguing that he had simply accepted the recommendations of experts, which had been prepared following consultations with local officials, the district administration and the union of communities.

No one had objected after the publication of the decision, he said.

The former minister in the Tassos Papadopoulos administration questioned why building permits were granted 10 years later if the decision at the time had been wrong.

That process was now under investigation by the auditor-general.

Thursday’s, decisions involve changing the legislation to plug gaps in zoning procedures, removing any illegal structures and restoring other interventions in the area, securing biodiversity by banning fishing and boat and other sea traffic from approaching the caves.

Pavements on the coast and landscaping inside the coastal zone will also be prohibited, street lights will be changed so as not to alter the levels of natural light, events causing noise and light pollution will also be banned, alien plant species will be removed, and owners of land won’t be allowed to acquire ‘green areas’ as part of building applications.

The committee also decided to ban the use of pesticides and fertilisers by the villa owners and local authorities. The removal of rocks, slopes, as well as shoring up the coast is also banned.

Access to trucks and other heavy equipment will be specified taking into account the sensitivity of the area.

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