Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Two years of chaos, and then what?

File photo

By Alexia Evripidou

Road works in the residential and commercial part of Anglantzia, Nicosia are about to start, threatening the livelihood of some 200 local businesses and affecting the lives of 2000 residents.

Businesses fear that the extensive works, which are estimated to take two years, will cause crippling financial losses while residents are concerned that what is now a residential, close knit neighbourhood will be turned into yet another hectic thoroughfare.

On one thing everyone – government, municipality, residents and shop owners – are all agreed: road upgrades are essential for the area.  But those living and working in the area vehemently oppose the four-lane road, including bus and cycle lanes, roundabouts and central divisions that the government is insisting on.

Businesses also argue the proposed on-street parking bays are dangerous because they are so narrow that car doors will open into the traffic. Most importantly, they say, the works will not even reduce the current traffic problems that they were reassured by the municipality was the purpose of the road works to begin with.

feature road - The road will be widened to four lanesAnd in the shorter term, businesses and residents face months of roadwork chaos with limited access to shops, schools and homes. This will financially damage local businesses, creating job losses and even pricey shop relocations or closures, especially as there’s no official compensation policy for loss of earnings.

“How are businesses supposed to financially survive whilst the roads are being constructed?  Cars will not be able to reach the shops easily; there’ll be digging, ditches and road works everywhere. Business will drop drastically,” said Andreas Andreou, the owner of a small business on Anglantzia Avenue and member of a committee set up to oppose the roadworks.

“At the end of each month rent still needs paying, as do taxes, electricity, staff, and we haven’t even mentioned personal living costs. We’ve been told that the works could go on for between 18 months and two years. Where will the money come from when there’s no loss of business compensation policy?”

What concerns Andreou (not his real name) is that customers will still not have easy access to the shops even after completion of the project.

Chrystalla Malloupa, director of the public works department, said the plans, which were drawn up in cooperation with Anglantzia municipality, take into consideration sustainable mobility and follow EU regulations. She said the roundabouts will allow drivers to u-turn back onto the opposite side of the street to access the shops.

“Anglantzia Avenue is an important road. If the crossing point to and from Athienou [to the north] opens, this could give easy access,” she said, adding that the contract was awarded in 2010 but due to economic crisis had been put on hold.

“In order not to lose this funding co-financed by the European Union, work has to begin before the end of 2015.”

The nearby University of Cyprus is another reason why such a major upgrade is necessary according to Anglantzia mayor, Costas Cortas.  “The purpose for these upgrades is that the University of Cyprus is based in Anglantzia and it’s important to have buses and bicycle lanes to support the thousands of students there,” he told the Sunday Mail.

But none of these points address the original issue which, locals say, was to reduce traffic in the area.

“We want Anglantzia to be a progressive European city, but they’ve not thought the designs through to suit the community, it only suits their pockets,” said Andreou.  “Originally, the municipality proposed a four lane road; basically running a motorway through the residential area. But the EU regulations wouldn’t allow that.”

Local businesses are pushing for an upgraded two way road that’s suitable for built up residential areas, where cars are forced to reduce their speed.

“We want appropriate roads for neighbourhoods like this where there are schools, houses, small shops and people crossing roads. That way there’ll also be ample space for larger parking spots, pavements and bicycle paths. Currently, they have to eat into people’s homes, gardens and shop fronts to make their proposal work.”

Kikis Evripidou, owner of Twice as Nice cake and pastry shofeature road - Kikis Evripidou and other protestors outside the presidential palace in Junep, has run his small family business on the road for the past 22 years.

“If these illogical four lane traffic roads occur, customers won’t have access to the shops for a large percentage of that time. Therefore, we’ll experience very tough financial times,” he said. “With such a drop in customers and no compensation to help pay the bills, shops will suffer greatly. People will lose jobs.”

Shop owners point to other major roadworks in Nicosia to prove their point.

“Wherever they make these four lane roads, most of the shops close and you can see for rent signs on most shop windows,” said Andreou. “This happened to Strovolos Avenue about 15 years ago; it used to be full of shops. Now you even struggle to access the few remaining shops because of the division separating both sides of the road.”

A small business owner, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Sunday Mail how their 20-year-old family business was forced to close when road works began on Prodromou Street, Nicosia in 2011. “We lost 50 per cent of our customers and were forced to operate only through our workshop elsewhere. But our customers couldn’t get even close enough to see the notices on our shop explaining that due to the works. We continued to pay the two rents for two years in the hope that we could move back upon completion of the road works. But we never could because there was no longer enough parking. Some of the shops in Prodromou Street have now moved or shut down as a result of the road works, with almost all having suffered big financial losses.”

Anglantzia mayor insisted that the authorities would do their best to minimise the disruption of the roadworks.

“We’ll take all the necessary measures to ensure that shops continue business as normal. Everyone will collaborate to ensure that the shops suffer as little as possible during this period,” Cortas said, adding that the road works would be carried out in stages.

The building of bus lanes is a particular bone of contention with businesses saying they are unnecessary and have only been added to the plans to secure EU funding.

“They’ve added two unnecessary bus lanes, which does not assist traffic but is in keeping for EU funding requirements; it seems they just want to keep the money by any means,” said Andreou.

According to the Nicosia bus company, OSEL, Anglantzia Avenue currently only has one bus route. “There’s been talk about the creation of future routes for these avenues, but the bus company won’t actually know until the work has been completed,” said Andreas Athanasiades general manager of OSEL.

“We all know what the driving is like here, do they really believe that people will not use the empty bus lanes to overtake, especially as the problem of high traffic flow hasn’t been addressed?” asked Andreou.

“With two of the four lanes, bus lanes, it’ll make absolutely no difference at all to traffic congestion,” added Evripidou.

Despite the obvious looming disruption any talk of compensation for loss of income has been vague.

“With regards to supporting businesses for potential loss of income, as a municipality we have something in mind to help shop owners who might incur loss of income, we are still working on it,” said Cortas, but did not elaborate.

“Regarding loss of income compensation, there isn’t a set procedure on how to handle this sort of problem. But there’s always the ability of a minister to do something about it,” said former environment commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou. “However, I suspect once the construction starts there will be many challenges and fights and the government probably won’t want to compensate. I think it’s unacceptable the procedures we follow in Cyprus.”

Legal experts say winning compensation for businesses affected by public works projects is notoriously difficult and usually ends up with individual businesses having to go to court.

Meanwhile members of the committee set up to oppose the project say they have received no response to their emails or calls from Cortas since May 2015.

“The mayor had been given approximately 16 million euros for the road but the smaller and safer version will cost much less and take less time. But they’ve refused to even listen to us, let alone consider it,” said Andreou. “Whose interest do they have in mind, the constructors or the people of the community?”

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