By Annette Chrysostomou
The comprehensive plan to rejuvenate the mountain communities is close to completion, the mountain development commissioner Yiannakis Papadouris told the Sunday Mail this week.
A meeting with the finance ministry on April 24 is the final step before the proposal is presented to the council of ministers on May 15.
The process started following last year’s cabinet approval of the interior minister’s strategic plan for the development of mountain regions, which seeks to halt and reverse the decades-long depopulation of the Troodos area by attracting more people to live in the area, promote tourism, balance the protection and exploitation of natural resources and improve infrastructure and transport.
Papadouris conceded it had taken more time than anticipated, but said this was to ensure that all issues have been considered.
The commissioner and his staff have read plenty of previous studies, all of which ended up on a shelf and he is determined that this will not happen again, he added.
“New issues come up and other ministries must be included,” he said. “We are following a holistic approach and are obliged to be concise and comprehensive.”
To develop the plan, there have so far been three conferences, each about 15 days long and involving all stakeholders, such as technical committees, government officials, local communities and small business owners.
All of them were asked for their input during the three events, the first of which took place in May 2018, the second in July and the third from February 19 until March 3 this year.
Papadouris’ office staff were in Greece this week to finalise matters with Thessaly University which is coordinating the efforts and last year provided the original report which the commissioner and his team used for further planning.
The scientists visited 114 communities, conducting research on how to address the problems facing the mountain villages.
The commission has now worked out the details with all ministries, except the finance ministry with which the commission will have a meeting this week.
The only ministry not involved is the foreign ministry, as all the rest have some type of role.
“For example the justice ministry might be in charge of a police station, or a fire fighting station in the area and we need to see what the issues are.”
Now the entire study is ready, complete with a timetable.
Not all require elaborate projects, but some can be dealt with by action.
One simple example is opening a tourism office in Troodos, to help introduce the idea of mountain tourism as a distinct concept.
Courses for pupils who have finished secondary school will also be established.
These could prepare students for jobs in hotels or agriculture. In the study, detailed suggestions have been made regarding the feasibility of different scenarios.
In essence, everything depends on detail, Papadouris stresses again and again. He says the study is both broad and in-depth, which is what has been lacking in other studies so far.
“How to go about it took most of the time. If we had done a strategic plan we could have finished in May or June last year, but by now it would have been shelved like so many others,” he said.
“My task is to convince every government employee that the plan must be implemented. Ministers come and go but the hierarchy of employees remains.”
The idea is it will become government policy after it is presented to the council of ministers on May 15.
The budget has not been finalised with the finance ministry, but the commissioner said every source of income will be chased, whether it is EU funding, money from other countries outside the EU, and even from charities.
How much is needed cannot be decided this year, as the projects and action will go on until the year 2030, “and even then there might be some implementations pending.”
The amount may not be more than is spent every year at present, but the difference is that up to now there has been no prioritisation.
Each community decided on its own how to spend money, and Papadouris’ view is that a lot of this had no positive consequences for the mountain region.
One example is the extravagant sports grounds the Platres development board had built in attempt to encourage sports tourism and professional athletes. The centre boasts a volleyball, a handball and basketball court, tennis courts and a gym, all state-of-the-art facilities, but has not proved successful and has left the village heavily in debt.
Now, all spending will follow the approved master plan.
Since 2002, when he was voted community leader of Kalopanayiotis, Papadouris has been at the forefront of the village’s transformation, adding roads and renovating old buildings into hotels, a library, self-catering apartments, a popular spa resort and restaurants. He suggested that Troodos should follow Kalopanayiotis’ example.
Following his appointment as personal advisor to the president in September 2017, Papadouris assigned the drawing up of the comprehensive development model to the University of Thessaly.
In November the government officially appointed Papadouris commissioner for the development of mountain communities.