By Evie Andreou
AGRICULTURE minister Nicos Kouyialis told the House Environment committee on Friday that he will launch a dialogue with all stakeholders as regards the proposals for Akamas, before they are tabled to the cabinet for a vote.
Following a maelstrom of opposition from conservationists as regards the provisions of the ministerial proposal for Akamas, the parliamentary committee asked Kouyialis to present to them the proposals before any final decisions are taken.
The proposals, initially announced in November, were met with satisfaction for the first time in 25 years from the area’s communities, since past governments have been trying to balance the need to preserve the area with the demands of land owners and residents to develop what is now classed as prime real estate.
The proposals provide for the designation as a national park of the forest and government land located within the Natura 2000 area. Activists, however, disagree and want the whole of the Akamas peninsula, including private properties and the local communities, be designated a biosphere park as is defined by UNESCO.
The issue of the Akamas, Kouyialis said, “plagued governments and citizens for 25 years”. He said that the forest park will comprise 75 per cent of the Natura 2000 area.
He added that the decision also includes an action plan of the town planning department for the entire area of Akamas, both inside and outside the Natura 2000 network and a review of previous cabinet decisions.
He explained that the review aims to test whether some of these decisions can be implemented or not, like compensation, property exchanges and transfer of building co-efficient.
“The priority of the government is to protect the environment and in particular this region,” Kouyialis said. He added that the aim is also to attract visitors and the revival of the surrounding communities.
The decision in no way reduces the limits of the Natura 2000 designated area, he said, and it does not provide any development coefficient to owners.
He added that decisions will be taken promptly. A budget of €16m has already been approved, he said, and what is pending is the cabinet decision to give the green light for the creation of the national park.
The head of the House Environment committee, Adamos Adamou, expressed his satisfaction that Kouyialis agreed to his proposal for a dialogue between the affected communities and conservationists to alleviate concerns of vested interests.
He said that the ministerial committee for the Akamas might proceed with some modifications before the proposals are submitted to the cabinet.
“I am concerned, I do not want Akamas, which is a unique habitat at a national and especially at European level, to be destroyed,” Adamou said.
I would like to believe, he said, that there are no citizens of the Republic who want to destroy Akamas.
He said that the remaining 25 per cent of the land which is private property will undergo urban planning in the manner permitted by the EU Habitats Directive.
He added that the major concern is for the landlocked plots within the forest, that do not have access, for which the environment committee does not want to be faced with plans for roads to develop these plots. He said that Kouyialis reassured MPs that these properties will not be developed.
He expressed the hope that the final decisions “will dispel these concerns and will protect Akamas”.
Greens MP George Perdikis, on the other hand, said that the downside of the discussion was Kouyialis’ refusal to assure that the landlocked properties within the forest area, whose vast majority belongs to three major owners, will not receive development rights, as envisaged by the relevant 2009 cabinet decision.
This, he said, is “a red line and the battle for Akamas continues”.
DISY MP Prodromos Prodromou said that the government decisions on Akamas are a step forward. He said that the Akamas proposals must be promoted and approved by the cabinet since it will lead to the full implementation of the EU Habitats Directive, and said that concerns are unjustified.
Meanwhile, protesters outside the parliament asked for the minister’s resignation and for the protection of the Akamas forest.
“Akamas is the only unspoiled place left on the island, and we want to keep it that way not only for us but for future generations. Akamas belongs to no-one. Landowners must be compensated and the whole area must be declared a national park,” protester Antonis Antoniou from Nicosia told the Cyprus Mail.
He added that there is no such thing as mild development in Cyprus, as what might begin as such ends up with the building of large hotel units.
On Friday morning, a representation of affected Akamas landowners and communities delivered a note to President Nicos Anastasiades asking that the cabinet approves the proposals of the ministerial committee.