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Beach regulations blatantly ignored

Diggers at work at Ayia Thekla (BirdLife Cyprus)

By Maria Hadjimichael

PARALIMNI and Sotira municipalities, which have illegally destroyed sections of their beaches, have recently been forced to defend their actions in parliament.

But these discussions at the House environment committee, which evolved over the past month, were full of contradictions and irrational conversations among the different participants. It goes without saying that the outcomes of these meetings stand as typical examples of justice (environmental justice in particular) in Cyprus.

In the Ayia Thekla area, Sotira municipality disturbed sections of the ‘Ayia Thekla-Liopetri’ Natura 2000 area with bulldozers. In 2008, the area was assigned by the Game Fund as one of the most important areas in Cyprus where the Greater Sand Plover finds shelter in its search for a mild winter. The Greater Sand Plover is considered an endangered species in Europe. This area was then covered with cement creating a new commercial beach.

The situation is similar with the Paralimni municipality whose bulldozers have been busy in the sea breaking rocks and on the beach cutting away the natural flora. In both cases the aim is one: to create more space for the commercial exploitation of the coastline.

During the House committee meeting, the mayor of Sotira municipality admitted that he was wrong. He also admitted that he had not conducted an environmental impact assessment (EIA) as required by law, giving the following excuse: “Why should I spend so much money on conducting an assessment, when there is a chance that they might reject my application?”

This comment was accepted and deemed appropriate by the members of the environment committee (apart from Green MP Giorgos Perdikis who demanded the restoration of the area). He was also excused on the grounds that Sotira is a new municipality. If this is a valid argument then we could with the same argument justify a careless and deadly car accident if it were caused by a new driver.

The competent authorities all highlighted that the mayor had been informed from the beginning that the interventions were illegal, since no EIA had been conducted. The environment department in particular insisted that an assessment for the restoration of the area must be conducted (since it was too late to conduct an EIA).The game fund also pointed out that the land on which the interventions occurred was not even granted to the municipality.

However, these departments were told off by most of the MPs, as, according to them, they were being too harsh on the municipality!

The Famagusta deputy district officer, whose office is also the responsible body for the protection of the coastline in the Famagusta region, claimed that it is absurd to put the Sotira municipality ‘on trial’ as there have been far more serious violations along the coast in Cyprus. “So what if they moved around a few rocks,” he said.

DIKO MP Sophocles Fyttis, meanwhile, declared that if he were mayor he would have done the same thing. DISY MP Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis repeated the argument that those who are complaining about the damage are economically and politically motivated. Of course, not being able to understand the meaning of the word selflessness, he asked who those protesting were. He blamed the private house owners in the area who “were also illegal so they should not be complaining”.

Even though I have focused on the discussions regarding the Ayia Thekla case, it is important to point out that the discussions were similarduring the meeting which focused on the interventions by Paralimni municipality. Paralimni mayor stated that there are other municipalities that are doing worse things and that he would not let the tourist product of the area decline because some people were protesting. He even said that he would do the same next year if the appropriate licences were handed out. And again some MPs were throwing the blame on the authorities on the one hand, and, on the other, accusing private landowners in the area for creating issues when there weren’t any. The deputy district office once again washed his hands saying that it was not his legal responsibility to do anything.

Let’s summarise this: municipalities break the law despite receiving a warning by all the competent authorities for violations of national and EU legislations. The public demands justice and the restoration of the affected areas. Not only are they not heard, but they are also asked by the chair of the environment committee to stop their complaints and come up instead with measures that could counter the impact caused by the interventions. In essence this means accepting the damage done rather than restoring the area, which is little more than a way of legalising illegal activities. The comment by the AKEL MP Skevi Koukouma, that given the outcomes of the meeting, any municipality can act as they please, was spot on.

I wonder how some of these MPs and technocrats can defend their position, whilst they shamelessly (directly or indirectly) support these illegal and arbitrary actions with such adverse environmental and social impacts. Our intelligence is continuously undermined by populism and lies by those same people to whom we pay our taxes to defend our interests. I would like to remind all these politicians and technocrats that it is their duty to serve the public, with the common good as their primary consideration, placing it above all their political and economic interests or those of their ‘friends’.

I have to admit, however, that my trust in this kind of democracy is long gone. We are now organised, we know our rights and we are ready to protect our shores and beaches against the bulldozers and the cement.

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