By Clive Turner
I don’t believe we have any town planners in Cyprus. They all live on an alien planet and visit here now and again to cause maximum disruption as a kind of pleasure holiday trip for themselves. ‘Town Planner’ are two of the most toxic words in the English language. And to admit I worked as one would need dragging out of me under torture. The alien planet suggestion is the only explanation for the appearance of the roads, the endless delays, the unfinished projects, the apparent lack of municipal co-operation, and in particular the lack of activity at countless sites all over the island.
Cordoned-off access to businesses, fenced-off pavements, no redirection, and large dust and mud-covered areas with a complete absence of progress for months at a time is a feature of life. Residents groan with frustration, while amazed tourists, astonished at what they’re witnessing, attempt to enjoy what they have been told is a fragrant, beautiful and easily traversed isle of delight.
Whole areas are blighted for weeks and months on end, with diversions (where they are offered by the municipality) taking a driver into unknown territory as diversion directions typically run out of signs within a few twists and turns. The alternative passages are invariably strewn with bumps, potholes and appallingly broken surfaces which promise substantial expense to suspension systems. ‘Enhancement’ and ‘improvement’ are gaily promised.
But where are the work teams? And where and when they are around, heaps of spoil, heavy machinery, rubbish and constant noise become the norm. It is intolerable for so many of the people living and working nearby. And when we see freshly asphalted roads, within weeks they are often dug up by one utility company or another with apparently no co-ordination with the local authority.
But more significantly, local businesses are being devastated. There are costs associated with these municipal goings-on which are totally hidden from the casual observer. Consider one long-established and successful business in Paphos where its customer base was denied sensible access for month after month after month to the extent that the owners were forced to cash in their pension scheme benefits, and seek parental support just to survive, since there is no compensation scheme to offset the dramatic loss of trade.
And all that time there was no indication of how long the situation would continue. They would stand and look out day after day when no work of any kind was being undertaken because different interests went uncoordinated and progress was painfully and infuriatingly not just slow, but non-existent.
These good people very nearly went to the wall. We are talking around a quarter of a million euros disbenefit which hit the business very hard and caused huge concern and anger. This loss of business went straight to the bottom line, and unless back-up cash can somehow be found, hard-working, respectable and well-regarded people are pushed into penury and eventual demise.
In my instance, and ironically, the final outcome of all the months and months of roadworks, re-routing, and redistribution of land availability, actually resulted in worse access compared to what had gone before and no genuinely visible improvement. It might have improved nearby traffic flow, but should that be the only criterion?
And this is just one of hundreds and hundreds of examples where right now similar scenarios are being replicated wherever you look. Of course we are constantly being told that one day when we see the finished project it will all have been worthwhile and our patience will be truly rewarded. Oh really! In the meantime, the financial stripping of local reputations through cavalier town planning with no counselling, no pre-discussion, and no compensation, does seem grossly unfair. How many of us have any idea of how damaging these redevelopments and ‘improvements’ are?
A purely personal experience when seeking how and why a new private house was given planning permission when it was completely out of local character and style, capable of being seen 10 kilometres away, standing out like the proverbial sore thumb and now universally believed to be a medical clinic, I received no response whatsoever. No sensitivity. No care for the neighbourhood. No evident sign of town planning expertise.
So, town planners, gird your loins, come out of the closet, prove visible counsellors, be pro-active in terms of getting things done, and offer your expertise and experience to the community at large so that Cyprus can emerge the more swiftly from a period of self-evident and gross ugliness – and into the promised land of urban civility and attractiveness.