By Bejay Browne
PAPHOS officials say they are determined to restore order and are already fighting a raft of urban planning illegalities to bring the town up to scratch ahead of its stint as European cultural capital in 2017.
Paphos mayor Phedonas Phedonos told the Sunday Mail that he is on course to keep the ‘clean-up’ promises he made prior to his election, after disgraced former mayor Savvas Vergas stepped down. Vergas is currently serving a six year prison term for corruption offences committed during the construction of the town’s sewerage system between 1999 and 2014.
Phedonos said he was determined to shake off Paphos’ dodgy image and maintains that his vision will turn the town around. Paphos as a successful European Capital of Culture for 2017 is a high priority. “Modern management and administration of the municipality, transparency, legality, zero tolerance in matters of entanglement and corruption, illegalities and arbitrariness and the development of a new identity centred on tradition and cultural heritage, will help regain our footing as is a quality tourist destination and service centre,” he said.
The revitalisation of the local economy and society, infrastructure and landscaping works, promoting investment and creating new jobs and modernising Paphos image are all important, he added. The mayor stressed that a concerted effort is being made to shake off the town’s scandal hit image, and the time of people lining their own pockets has passed. “I cannot stress out enough that Paphos is not the city of scandals and corrupted politicians. It has shown and proved that it can reach huge goals. The moral and economic crisis we are going through must act as an opportunity for permanent exemption from the devastating effects of rot and corruption, individualism and egocentrism.”
On a practical level, the mayor points to irregularities such as restaurants and hotels extending their spaces by erecting structures with tables and chairs in places where they have no permission. “We will fight all urban planning illegalities, starting with the tourist area and the city centre, which are the showcases of our city,” he said. But the issue is not quite as straightforward as it may appear. The five star Almyra hotel in Kato Paphos is a case in point.
Five years ago, the hotel erected a decked area along the coast which serves as a popular ouzeri or eatery and which would have to be dismantled if the municipality refuses to legalise it.
Natasha Michaelides of the Thanos Hotel group, which own and operate Almyra, said that the hotel has been trying to ‘legalise’ it for some considerable time. She said that the reason behind the initial construction was to cover an unsightly and dangerous area which remained following the construction of the coastal path.
“Originally, the concept of the walkway was to create a decked path, but during Vergas’ time, this was said to be too costly to maintain and instead it was made using concrete. This construction left us with no beach and we are the only hotel in the area without one,” she explained.
The construction of the coastal walkway saw the destruction of the beach in front of the hotel and left a number of unsightly and dangerous rocks exposed. Michaelides said that Thanos Hotels paid for an expert study, which found that the sea was breaking and wearing away the concrete and exposing the rocks. “We constructed a deck and beautified the area and we have been trying to legalise it. We want to find a solution, it’s very popular, much photographed and people love it.”
She pointed out that businesses in the harbour area of Paphos pay rent for similar decks and that this is the norm in Limassol, which is thriving. “This would be a good solution for us. Previously, the municipality has always been very positive and said keep it.”
Although municipal cleaners are working in the area, the hotel staff also cleans public areas close by to ensure they are pristine. Hotels have also contributed thousands of euros towards a study to construct wave breakers in the area. Businesses feel that the situation is confusing.
On the one hand authorities are asking them to financially contribute to upgrading of the area, yet on the other are not offering solutions to existing issues, said one local businessman who wished to remain unnamed.
“It’s a struggle to make things work and turn them around after the crisis. But we are determined, and the area is now very popular. People and families need places to go and things to do and this is something we are lacking in Paphos. Yes, things have to be tidied up and there have to be laws, but not to the detriment of what is already being offered and is popular with customers,” he said.
He added that road works on the Tomb of the Kings, unsightly buildings opposite the entrance to the Tomb of the Kings, and problems with litter and graffiti should be addressed. The mayor concluded: “We must learn from our mistakes, but also be proud of our achievements. I firmly believe that with cooperation and unity, clear aims and hard work, Paphos will be reborn and will soon be a city that other cities will emulate.”