By Pavlos Photiades
The Photiades Group owns two parcels of land, both are within the Akamas Natura 2000 designated area and were acquired several decades before Akamas became an issue and at particularly high prices for the era.
Since then we have, unfortunately, been selectively accused as if we committed some kind of crime because of our investment in a remote and underprivileged part of our country.
We have heard all sorts of inaccuracies and blatantly fictitious claims over the years. A recent one was the claim that we own 27 per cent of all private land included the Natura 2000 area. In reality, our group owns only six per cent of the private land or 1.5 per cent of the total area.
The interesting detail here is that this misleading information has already been noted and corrected (with apologies) by the person who first published it but amazingly enough it is still constantly repeated by the entire lobby.
We are one of the more than three thousand land owners on the Akamas Penisula. However, because of the group’s business successes and significant contributions to the economy, even during the current crisis, our group has been selected as the easy target as it makes for nice conspiracy theories, like the recent one.
Our group has been honoured and awarded environmental prizes as well as other community awards many times. We have a long standing history of practices of corporate responsibility. Protecting and promoting the environment is a priority of the group’s philosophy, demonstrated with numerous examples such as the creation and operation of the Cyprus Museum of Natural History. We are deeply disappointed by the way some particular people make these vague and unjustified accusations against us simply to make a political point and promote their cause, having no knowledge of our views, intentions and our record.
We, along with all the inhabitants and land owners in the area, are the first ones to care for the protection of the ecosystem. It is this very protection that will ensure the uniqueness of the peninsula and consequently of our own properties.
The Natura 2000 directive does not prohibit development but it sets strict regulations and a precise design and permit process. All we ask is to be allowed to follow this directive that applies Europe wide and considered by many to be especially strict.
We are now witnessing another paradox. While for many years the implementation of the Natura 2000 was the ultimate target for the protection of Akamas, now the time has finally come for its implementation, some are asking for rules even harsher than those applied to the rest of Europe.
For 27 years, we, the Akamas owners have been trapped by the indecisiveness of various governments. In 2009 the government decided to compensate the private owners and acquire their land. It has been estimated that the compensation could climb to one billion euros, equivalent to €2,000 per working citizen. This solution was obviously not very realistic. It should come as no surprise that since that Cabinet decision in 2009 not a single act has been taken towards its implementation.
For the first time after all these years the government decided to proceed with a scientific and detailed environmental study of the Akamas Penisula. Experts have been paid by the government to scientifically locate and chart on a map all the protected species present in the area and indicate how those should be protected. In the original study submitted in December 2013 they indicated 16 zones, where moderate development could take place without posing any threats to the environment. However, instead of using those scientific findings as the guiding rule as logic rules, some people insist on judging the future of Akamas based on dogmatic beliefs, sentimental visions or political ambitions.
The new decision by the Council of Ministers basically cancels the 2009 decision, which was never implemented. It is positive that we have a new development, a decision that seems to be based on logic and facts and can actually be implemented, but we still have nothing substantial or concrete. Until the new local planning is finalised, as per the decision, all these land owners will still have no clarity.
Our group had in the past made plans to create a unique resort on our land. Those designs were done in the early 1980s and are obviously outdated and need to be adjusted to modern needs and mentalities. Any new designs will naturally follow the Natura 2000 directive and abide by its rules and regulations. It goes without saying that we are not supporting a cement block type of development as was unfortunately the case in other seaside parts of our island. This is neither desirable nor possible in any way for Akamas. At the same time though, an absolute dogmatic prohibition is also wrong and unrealistic and will ultimately destroy both the communities and the environment.
If scientific and environmental logic prevails, we naturally want to examine ways to create a viable and environmentally unique project on our land under the framework of the Natura 2000 directive which is in harmony with the area’s ecosystem and nature.
Today, the overwhelming philosophy globally on the protection of the environment calls for the harmonious co-existence of nature and sustainable development. It calls for neither undisciplined development nor absolute prohibition.
Pavlos Photiades is managing director of the Photos Photiades Group