By Waylon Fairbanks
ENVIRONMENTALISTS have hit back at a suggestion by Akamas landowners that the cash-strapped state should withhold their compensation and allow them limited development instead.
They called it “a return to failed reasoning and unsound planning”.
The landowners in the protected area of Paphos have been pushing for development for decades. Last Saturday they argued that foregoing compensation would benefit state finances, and that development would result in economic growth.
Environmentalist however dismissed the statement, saying that in addition to environmental damage, developing the peninsula would have no significant economic benefits either.
“Are they going to build more cheap concrete hotels? Most of the existing hotels are vacant or for sale. If tourism cannot even fill the existing hotels, why would we destroy what little wilderness is left in Cyprus to build more?” said Linda Leblanc, a councilwoman and resident in nearby Peyia.
Others questioned the committee’s sincerity in wanting to help reduce state spending, arguing instead that the plan was void of details and resembled more of a ploy from vested interests.
“Cyprus needs a new model, one that does not expect developers to buy land, build villas and sell them to Russian billionaires. There are already hundreds of empty houses around Cyprus. This is the return to failed reasoning and unsound planning,” said Greens deputy Giorgos Perdikis.
The Akamas Peninsula is part of Natura 2000, a protected network of wilderness areas recognised by the European Union. The peninsula is one of Europe’s few endemic zones, given its unique ecological zone and geographical isolation. Despite being a condition of EU accession, Akamas is not currently a national park.
“Cypriots need to decide If we want a national park at Akamas or not. It is not just a question of land ownership, but one of our European heritage,” Leblanc said. “Few Mediterranean areas are this untouched. Should we replace this wilderness with tacky casinos just to attract some chartered flights?”
The cabinet of Demetris Christofias government decided in April 2009 to resolve the issue between landowners and environmentalists by compensating landowners, at the same time ensuring ecological protection. However, environmentalists view the latest statement from the committee of landowners as reneging on a settled issue.
“The statement completely disregards EU regulations and the position the government negotiated with these committees. We want to hold our citizens to the agreement reached in 2009. Now, they are using the economic crisis to change the agreement,” Perdikis said.
Perdikis and others against development at Akamas argued that the very model of a tourism-based economy was suspect.
“This overdevelopment and tourism model has been used for decades. This is failed. Look at the mess we are in,” noted Perdikis. “We must try to find a way out by using another route. To have viability, you must stop asking for easy, quick profits. In order to create sustainable development, you need to think in gradual steps.”