Peyia residents, fed up that access to five of their beaches is becoming increasingly restricted, have appealed to authorities to challenge big developers and private land owners who have closed access roads to popular beaches.
Even Coral Bay beach has not been immune. An area of privately owned land right above the bay, had previously been used as a car park and one of several access points to the beach, but this was recently cordoned off.
Andreas Evlavis, the district secretary of the Paphos branch of the Cyprus Green party told the Sunday Mail that they had received numerous complaints from locals.
“Problems with developers encroaching on land at the coast is happening all over Cyprus and it’s not legal. But this seem to be particularly prevalent in Paphos and people are making a lot of complaints,” said Evlavis. “Hotels and businesses are blocking access to the coast and this is a problem that Paphos has been facing for a number of years.”
In particular, residents are complaining about illegalities and restricted access to popular beaches and coastal areas along the stunning Sea Caves area in Peyia.
As well as Coral Bay beach, there are reportedly four further areas with restricted access, the first is a beach which makes up part of Laourou, (the stretch of Corallia Bay made up of four smaller bays), and two at the Sea Caves area- Maniki beach and Kafizis (fisherman’s) beach. In addition, access is often restricted to Toxeftra Beach- a turtle nesting ground- in the Akamas.
An area of ‘Laourou’, found between the Coral Bay Hotel and Thalassa Hotel is impossible to access and has been for the last 20 years. Residents say that it is supposed to have a designated public access point and could also be an area where the municipality could provide services and create an income.
Further along the coastline, Maniki beach has been ‘taken over’ by a luxury development. The municipality applied more than five years ago to designate this as an official beach, but the process stalled, as its part of the Natura 2000 area and so of special conservational interest.
There has already been uproar at the area previously, after developers bulldozed a lot of it, according to Evlavis.
Kafizi which is a little further along was previously accessible along a dirt road. These unofficial roads were on private land, and a developer has now closed this off and vehicle access has disappeared, according to the Green party member.
People now have to park their vehicles on the tarmacked road and make a long trek along a manmade pathway to the coast, making access far more difficult.
Another area facing problems is the turtle breeding ground of Toxeftra beach in the Akamas. Evlavis noted that sunbeds and umbrellas which have been placed there by a local businessman for a number of years are not permitted.
The storm of complaints, in particular concerning a lack of road access to Maniki and Kafizi, has given the ammunition Peyia councillor Linda Leblanc needs to push the council to take action.
She said that both are hugely popular and residents are now “very angry about it”. She said that public access has been destroyed and this is forcing the council to look at it more closely. She suggested that a dirt track, as the area is part of Natura 2000, would be a good idea to allow fishermen and the disabled closer access to the water.
“We need to address these problems now. The coastline is a wonderful heritage and we are destroying it. There is no conservation,” she said. “But Peyia is finally starting to look at these instances in a way it never has done before and Coral Bay is the catalyst for change. We have to respect the public’s right to go to the seashore, no-one owns it, it’s not private. These practices need to be controlled and people need to be fined.”
The councillor said that in 2013, following the economic meltdown, external controls came into play to try and make the local authorities more viable and to maximise income. This led to the creation of the National Beaches Committee.
“There were so many illegalities on Peyia beaches, it was a shambles. Some people were licensed, some were not. This gave us an opportunity to clear all of the illegals away.”
One Peyia resident, who has enjoyed fishing at the Sea Caves area for the last thirty years, and only wanted to be identified as George, said that he is fed up with big businesses doing ‘what they want’ in the area and closing off access to the sea to locals who have used the area for generations and to visitors too.
“It is very difficult to get to some of the areas I used to go to along the Sea Caves, I have complained to the mayor and I hope he will fix the problem.”
Evlavis said that action must be taken to ensure the public has access to the coast at all times.
“Peyia must now do something about it,” he said.
Coastline needs coordinated management
According to a past report by the auditor-general, there is a total lack of coordinated management when it comes to the island’s beaches, a lack of oversight by local authorities, a lack of environmental policies, and unchecked development.
In a lengthy audit of the situation, he called on the interior ministry to take action.
According to the report the competent authority, the Cyprus Beach Committee, is unable to effectively oversee the island’s coastlines, opting instead to delegate the task to local authorities.
“There is no approved, general course of action on how to best manage a beach. Community and municipality councils decide on how to best to manage a beach and their decisions vary depending on the situation,” the report said.
The report also noted that employees in district offices tasked with carrying out inspections on beaches almost never do. In some cases, local authorities didn’t even bother with appointing anyone to that post.
There is also a pending proposal before the House on amendments to the Forest (Allocation of State Forest Land) Regulations, which aim to reduce the necessary distance allowed for the leasing or making available of coastal forest land from 500 to 100m from the sea.
Once this distance to the beach protection zone is decreased it will make it possible for the cabinet to lease it for “reasons of public benefit”, detractors say.
The regulations, thwarted by continued protests for the time being, was the first of three bills being used by the government to push for the appropriation and privatisation of forests, beaches, the coastline, the sea and the commons.
The more insidious of the government bills was an item giving the interior minister powers to issue a permit, by decree, for any development, without the need to go through the town planning department.
Critics said this would create a super fast-track procedure for initiating coastline developments, effectively negating the requirement for any environmental impact assessments prior to acquiring the relevant permits.
Completing the trifecta for privatising the commons was a third bill – also drafted by the interior ministry – which included the sea into the definition of “real estate.”
Activists accused the government of being willing to allow investors exclusive access to Cyprus’ beaches – which are all designated public land.
The article in the controversial bill reads: “The definition of the term ‘real estate’ now includes marine space, which with developments or activities or facilities is connected directly or indirectly with private property, as is defined in the legislation.”
Private beach party causes spat in Akamas
The commonly held view is that all beaches in the republic are owned by the state and therefore the public can access every centimetre of the coast.
The truth is a less clear cut, as a spat over a recent private party on a remote Akamas beach highlighted.
Swimmers at Ayios Nicolaos, an area which is only accessible by 4×4 vehicles or via boat from the sea, took to social media a few weeks ago to express their outrage after they were told to leave and remove their belongings as preparations for a beach party for ‘celebrities’ connected to a nearby five star hotel needed to get underway.
The area is privately owned and has belonged to a local businessman since the early 1960s, according to the Neo Chorio community leader, Andreas Christodoulou.
“This is a private area and the owners don’t need permission to hold a party here, it’s up to them what they do there,” he said.
“This is not what I would describe as a ‘beach’. It is a small bay which is accessed from the owner’s garden above by a 4×4,” added the community leader’s wife.
She said that the owner only holds events at his ‘small bay’ every couple of years for special occasions, which he is allowed to do, as he is the legal owner of the area and has been for decades.
Green party MP and former environment commissioner, Charalambous Theopemptou explained that although the island’s coastline is ‘owned’ by the government on behalf of the public, there are specific instances where ownership is ambiguous and needed clarification. Here, it is in the in the hands of the interior minister, who has the right to declare areas 10m up to the water line as a public beach.
The MP, who called the police and the Paphos District office after the disgruntled beach goers contacted him via Facebook, said that even if the land is privately owned, the bay is in a protected area and party organisers would need to obtain a special permit from the Paphos District Office.
Although Theopemptou could not comment on the legalities of this particular beach, he explained that there were a number of different reasons why the owner could be claiming the land as his.
“If the owner bought a beach front property, and corrosion by the sea has eroded away the beach – you can look at the land register and it could say that his limits extend into the water. I know of one case where a hotel built into the water, using this point,” he said.
“Secondly, the minister has the right to define what is a beach – “up to 100 yards from where the water breaks”. The specified distance is in yards, as the law dates from the 1960s and is part of the constitution. “If the minister hasn’t defined it, it could be owned as ‘their’ land. But this goes against the law and the minister has the power to declare it a beach.”
Thirdly, the Green MP noted that there if there is no direct access, such as a track or road, the owner could say that access was through his property. It is this point that is complicating access to some beaches in Peyia.
For the community leader and his wife, however, the issue of ownership is not the main issue. Christodoulou said the dozens of illegal campers and piles of rubbish they leave behind is far more important.
“So many people come to our village and the surrounding areas, especially during the summer, as it’s so beautiful,” said Christodoulou. “But they leave everything here. Broken umbrellas, a lot of rubbish and who will clean this up or pay to have this cleaned up; why don’t people complain about that?”
His wife explained how, in contrast, organisers of the businessman’s party had cleared away every scrap of rubbish.
Christodoulou was so incensed with the litter left lying about that he and two employees visited the area recently to clean up bags of garbage which had been left behind by weekend visitors and illegal campers.
“Camping is not allowed in the Akamas and yet people come here. Everyone has to start cleaning up after themselves, it makes me so angry. I love the Akamas and I urge people to keep it clean.”
Check out the Cyprus Mail’s – ‘Best Beaches Guide.’ This week is Avdimou Bay in the Limassol District