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Cyprus

Cabinet approves controversial Akamas plan

By Andria Kades

The cabinet on Monday approved Agriculture Minister’s Nicos Kouyialis proposal on Akamas which the government insists will protect its beauty and biodiversity as well as developing the region.

It outlines five key points which include the immediate steps by the forestry department to declare the forest and state owned areas within Natura 2000 – an EU-designated area of outstanding natural beauty – as a national park.

Private property, comprising 25 per cent of the area, will be excluded from the area designated as a national park.

The government aims to complete the procedure by March 2016, as stipulated by the law.

Green MP George Perdikis said he would be filing a complaint to the European Commission as the move satisfies two or three major land owners, giving them a “window of opportunity to wreck nature with their development plans”.

Environmentalist group Friends of the Earth Cyprus also slammed the move saying the cabinet voted for proposals which “go against the wish of 8000 citizens who have signed a petition against these proposals” and “against the wish of 500 people who were outside the presidential palace and parliament calling for Akamas’ protection.”

Unhappy with the move, the group stated the proposals were unclear and do not ensure the protection of the Akamas area or the well-being of local communities.

Specifically, the five points of the cabinet-approved proposal include measures to protect the environment which apply to private and state property, and making the state forest and property within Natura 2000 a national park.

Within hours after the approval, Kouyialis set the ball rolling by ordering the decrees outlining protective measures to be issued immediately and the procedure to declare the forest a national park.

The proposal states that a specialist consultant must be hired to advise on the management of the park and how it could be utilised as well as the re-evaluation of previous cabinet decisions.

Additionally, the interior ministry’s road planning department will have to prepare a plan within 18 months for the whole Akamas area.

Kouyialis brushed off accusations that the proposal was beneficial to a handful of people saying “this is the first cabinet decision which does not refer to by a name, a large owner. All previous cabinet decisions referred to large owners and as a matter of fact outlined how they would be compensated.”

Monday’s decision however does not allow for any property swap or compensation, he stressed thus guaranteeing the equal treatment of all property owners whether they own small or large properties.

He said the value of private property in the area is estimated at half a billion euros.

“We believe this decision paves the way for the effective protection of the area. For the first time, measures regulating harmful activities on the environment will be tackled,” he said, adding that these included jeep ‘safaris’, overgrazing and uncontrolled entry to Akamas.

Kouyialis sought to reassure that the boundaries of the Natura 2000 area were not affected and as long as its European directive was adhered to, the environment could be protected.

“The Akamas area in the past had 22 to 23 thousand residents while today, only 3,000 people live in the area. The area has stagnated and we believe through the proper management of the area and protecting the environment the whole area can be rejuvenated.”

Last week, Kouyialis said the issue had “plagued governments and citizens for 25 years” and the forest park will comprise 75 per cent of the Natura 2000 area.

Nevertheless the Friends of the Earth said they would continue to fight the plans.

Chairman of the House environment committee Adamos Adamou, earlier in the day expressed his concerns saying there should have been public consultations over the final proposal.

“When you come and make changes and say I want to reduce the national park area to 75 per cent and leave 25 per cent of private property out, it is your duty, in my opinion, to head to public consultation again.”

Nevertheless, he said he never received a response from the minister.

Kouyialis said 28 per cent of government controlled areas of Cyprus are part of Natura 2000 with about 14 per cent belonging to private owners. “Thus the state cannot selectively compensate some, and not compensate others. This is why I believe our decision ensures the equal treatment of citizens.”

es the equal treatment of citizens.”

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