THE Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 2010 government decision to include private property in Akamas into the Natura 2000 network, does not affect plans for the creation of a national forest in the area, Agriculture minister Nicos Kouyialis said on Friday.
The higher court’s decision, announced on Thursday, accepted appeals from 258 individuals and companies whose property was included in the Natura 2000 designated area of the Akamas peninsula.
The decision to designate the land in question as part of Natura 2000 was taken in 2009 and it was implemented in 2010. A 12-member scientific committee was appointed to chart these areas and designate the natural preservation area, which included private property. Its proposal was approved by the cabinet in February 2010, while 470 objections were submitted by land owners.
All objections, the court decision said, were reviewed and rejected by the scientific committee.
According to the court ruling, the 2010 government decision was rejected based on “issues concerning public order”. It said that the scientific committee’s composition was “poor” as not all committee members were present during meetings and when decisions were taken, thus violating the principles of the administrative law.
It gave as an example that during three meetings which were crucial as the designation of areas into the Natura 2000 was been discussed, not all members of the scientific committee were present.
The court also ruled that the scientific committee abused power, as according to regulations, the final say as regards the designation of the Natura 2000 areas lies with the competent minister, who submits the final proposal to the cabinet.
But in this case, the court said, it emerged that the scientific committee did not only examine the objections of land owners, but “it abused power by rejecting them, without the input of the competent minister”. It added that the committee did not justify the rejection of objections to the minister and it submitted the final proposal to the cabinet, bypassing the minister. It appears, the decision said, that the minister was not involved in the whole procedure in violation of relevant legislation.
This ruling, Kouyialis said, proves right the cabinet decision of this government to proceed with the creation of a national park, which will include the forest and state land. “This does not change anything”.
“The Natura 2000 network concerning state land still exists, but the procedure to re-integrate private property must be revalued,” Kouyialis said.
He added that he will study carefully the court ruling before any further steps are taken.
The scientific committee, he said, will re-evaluate the case of the private land that will be included within the network. He also said that all indicated procedures will be followed so that the committee “will do the job not done in 2009”.
The secretary of the Akamas property owners committee, Savvas Hadjiminas, welcomed the court decision and said that the protected areas need to be re-designated. He added that a strategic plan must be established for ecological and touristic growth, which also provides for a mild building co-efficient.
“We don’t want hotels or cement, we want each and every owner to have the right to do what they please with their property,” Hadjiminas said.
He added that they will fight any new move to re-integrate private land into the Natura network and that they will resort to the European Court of Human rights if they have to.
All state-owned land in Akamas was declared a national forest park by the cabinet in March. The land covers around 75 per cent of the Akamas area or around 75 square kilometers.
Phase two of the cabinet decision was for the town planning department to introduce a local plan for the whole of the Akamas area that involves the Natura 2000 site, and the land beyond. The cabinet decision came after more than two decades of disagreements between Akamas landowners and the government over the management of the area.
Hadjiminas told the Cyprus Mail that the area’s landowners never agreed to the specific proposal, and would like to see a new local plan that provides for mild development based on the pre-1989 conditions, where there were provisions for tourist zones, housing and agricultural zones.
A conservationist told the Cyprus Mail that to avoid EU sanctions the government needs to re-designate the Natura 2000 area at the same size the EU had approved and not smaller.
Meanwhile, the Terra Cypria non-governmental organisation said in an announcement that the court decision was based on procedural reasons and does not negate the inclusion of the area in the Natura 2000 network.
The specific Akamas area, along with the rest of the 61 areas that have been proposed by Cyprus for inclusion into the network, has been included in the European Natura 2000 catalogue and the government continues to have obligations for their protection and management.