Cyprus Mail

Concerns raised over protection of the Akamas

By George Psyllides

Two AKEL MEPs have expressed concern over the government’s plans for the Akamas peninsula, charging that the protected area would be reduced and construction would be allowed to serve the interests of a handful of big landowners.

Neoclis Sylikiotis and Takis Hadjigeorgiou filed a question to the European Commission saying that on November 19 the ministerial committee recommended the reduction, by 25 per cent, of the Natura 2000 protected area that will be inducted in the planned national park, limiting it to just the state-owned land.

The MEPs said the government was also planning to create new building zones inside the protected area it was leaving outside the park.

“Such a development will promote the interests of a few big landowners against the interests and needs of society,” the MEPs said. “It will also be catastrophic for the protected area of the Akamas peninsula, an area of great environmental importance for Cyprus and the EU.”

Sylikiotis and Hadjigeorgiou asked the Commission whether it had been informed of the plans to allow development and what actions it was going to take to prevent such an action.

It should be noted that Sylikiotis was interior minister when the Akamas was designated a Natura site in 2009. He was also minister in 2011 when environmentalists filed an official complaint – still pending – with the EU arguing that the designation was inadequate.

Their letter followed one by their DISY colleague Lefteris Christophorou who argued that Cyprus had too many Natura sites, taking up too much area.

In a recent letter to the environment commissioner, Christophorou said that also taking into account that 37 per cent of the island was occupied by Turkey, it left limited land available for agricultural or other forms of development.

“Unfortunately, in addition to these restrictions, designated Natura sites take up 28 per cent of its territory, with the result that the country is being asphyxiated,” Christophorou said.

The DISY MEP asked what action the Commission intended to take regarding this “major injustice” and whether it would be possible to introduce maximum limits for all countries or stipulate an average for the 28 member states.

Christophorou also asked whether other alternatives could be considered.

Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella replied that Natura 2000 sites were designated by individual member states “applying relevant scientific criteria under the Birds and the Habitats directives”.

“Cyprus has designated on that basis a significant part of its land territory, which reflects the high biodiversity it hosts,” Vella said. “This is the case of several other Member States and cannot therefore be considered as an injustice to Cyprus.”

The commissioner said it was not possible to introduce maximum limits of Natura 2000 coverage or set an average as designation took into account the large natural variation in biodiversity and ecosystems.

The commissioner reminded Christophorou that Natura 2000 sites “do not a priori exclude socioeconomic activities but require measures for sound planning and management so that activities operate in a sustainable way to meet their objectives while also safeguarding the valuable species and habitats present for the benefit of society as a whole.“

The issue of Akamas has long been a sore point between the government, local residents, landowners, property developers and environmentalists.
Landowners and local residents have long argued that it is unfair not to allow them to develop what has become prime real estate, while conservationists counter that Akamas is one of the last truly beautiful nature spots in the government-controlled areas, which is already under threat by the gradual encroachment of development, with the tolerance of the authorities.

Following the 2011 complaint, the Commission opened an infringement procedure by sending Cyprus a letter of formal notice requesting comment from the government. The Cyprus Mail understands that the state has responded and the reply is currently being studied by the Commission.

If it is found insufficient, the Commission will respond by sending a reasoned opinion stating the reasons why it believes the member state has breached EU law.

After that, the government has up to two months to comply or possibly face court and a fine.

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