Cyprus Mail

Protesters oppose Akamas development, ‘no need to worry’ says minister

By Annette Chrysostomou

WITH slogans and messages such as ‘Hands off the Akamas’, ‘AKAMAS SOS’, ‘Kouyialis and Hasikos: do not become pioneers of cementing the Akamas’ and ‘Akamas – the paradise we lose’, 300 people from environmental groups protested in front of the presidential palace on Wednesday against proposed changes to the law regarding the Akamas peninsula.

One banner said ‘The European Directive does not allow building within Natura 2000’ referring to the area that was named a protected natural habitat by the network of protected areas within the EU, a move which displeased many of the residents who own land within its limits.

A master plan for the area has been on hold for 26 years because landowners could not agree with the government on the specifics. While the original master plan forbids any kind of development within the zone, the landowners asked to be allowed some exemptions.

On November 19, the ministerial committee proposed the creation of a national forest which includes all the state-owned land in the area, but to review the existing town zoning system, allowing some mild development of private land.

This will reduce, by 25 per cent, the Natura 2000 protected area. While landowners approve the plan, environmentalists are against “the cutting of the park in pieces”, as member of the group, The friends of Akamas’ Kyriakos Similis said on Wednesday.

The environmental organisations demand that the whole Akamas peninsula (including private properties and the local communities) are proclaimed as a biosphere park as it is defined by UNESCO.

“That includes provisions on environmental protection, natural resource management, socio-economic welfare of local villages and communities and sustainable tourist activities,” according to a joined statement issued after the demonstration.

“The organisations call on the cabinet to vote against the recommendations of the committee which are based on economic and political reasons and not on social, economic and scientific criteria. The proposals cannot be accepted and do not ensure environmental protection, the welfare of local communities, the public interest and our common values,” they said.

Meanwhile, from mid-October until today, more than 7,130 people have signed the online petition on the protection and designation of the Akamas national forest park which includes the whole peninsula.

For his part, Greens party leader George Perdikis said that the recent decision of the committee, “unfortunately brings us back to the 1990s, where Akamas was threatened by the reckless and greedy residential development with major business projects.”

“The land is already protected as a state forest, so the creation of a national forest has no meaning,” he told the Cyprus Mail.

Agriculture minister Nicos Kouyialis commented that he does not understand why the protest took place.

“The area that borders the Natura 2000 area will not be reduced, while the state-owned land within the Natura 2000 will become a national park. The relevant EU directive on the preservation of the environment will be respected and followed,” he said.

The government believes that the specific decision protects the Akamas area and it also frees private property from the existing “unjust state of affairs”.

The biggest problem lies with private properties that are outside the Natura 2000 area, that in the past were considered as part of a national park, the minister explained. He did not rule out the possibility of mild development in these properties which he says is allowed as per the relevant EU directive.

“Development in these areas will be mild as in the case of Cavo Greco where a golf course is to be created within a designated Natura 2000 area,” he added.

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