MPs are considering a carrot and stick approach to ensure better protection of listed buildings after the near demolition of three historical buildings by the archbishopric in old Nicosia.
House interior committee president Eleni Mavrou told reporters after a committee hearing on the issue on Monday that MPs will consider making the legal framework tougher while also introducing more incentives to preserve the island’s cultural heritage.
Meeting in the wake of a public outcry over the archbishopric’s actions, the committee reacted with skepticism to claims by church representative Christodoulos Ktorides that the destruction had been ‘inadvertent’ after heavy storms damaged the roof of one of the houses.
Ktorides said a timetable had been agreed with the municipality for designs to be submitted to restore the three buildings. The archbishopric has submitted a €500,000 guarantee to this effect, mayor Constantinos Yiorkadji said. This may not cover the amount needed to restore the buildings but aims to commit the archbishopric to starting work immediately.
He said the designs were due in April, adding that the municipality had been strict with implementation of the law.
Technical chamber president Constantinos Constanti said he had expected to hear an apology from the archbishopric on Monday. Instead, the message was going out that anyone can go ahead with demolitions.
Mavrou said the issue concerned not just the specific buildings or the ‘authoritarianism’ showed by the church and its contempt for legal frameworks to protect the architectural wealth of Cyprus.
“The issue concerns equality before the law. The law is good, it can become better, but what is most important is for there to be a willingness to implement it,” she said.
In this particular case, the committee was concerned that there was no time plan for the actual restoration of the listed buildings or adequate safety clauses. What had been decided between the municipality and the church was a schedule as regards the designs and safety in the area, not the restorations, she said.
“We also heard the inimitable today that it was accidental, that it was inadvertent that the listed buildings collapsed and not due to the bulldozer,” she said.
Asked as to the next steps, she said the committee will suggest amendments to the law to make the legal framework tougher. Guests, including the Technical Chamber and the Town Planning Department, and committee members had also stressed that a comprehensive policy was needed for listed buildings, she noted.
“We need to look at how to improve the incentives and how to improve the infrastructure in the areas where these buildings are located.”
Meanwhile, Disy president Averof Neophytou, who had helped mediate a deal with the church and the municipality, has submitted a bill to the committee to protect listed buildings.
The current legislation provides for a fine of €1710 which is not prohibitive. The proposal would introduce an administrative fine of €20,000 and an additional €200 a day until a building is restored, Disy vice president Nicos Tornaritis said.
Should, as in this case, a listed building be demolished, then the fine should be equal to the value of the property as listed by the department of land and surveys, or at least up to €50,000.
If approved the bill would also give the department of town planning the right to restore or rebuild listed buildings which have been demolished, at the expense of the owner.
Tornaritis also spoke about the need for incentives to revive the areas in which listed buildings are located.