Citing overriding public interest, the cabinet decided on Wednesday to go ahead with construction of a mountain road, ignoring its own department’s disagreement and warnings of negative and irreversible effects on the environment.

According to a cabinet statement, the €70m Astromeritis to Evrihou motorway is expected to be advanced this year.

“The project aims to resolve traffic safety and functionality problems, improve access in the Solea and Troodos area, and contribute to economic growth, social cohesion, and improvement of the residents’ quality of life,” the cabinet said.

The new motorway is planned to start from the existing Troodos road, south of Astromeritis, and end at the Kalopanayiotis to Kykkos junction, a length of 11.3 kilometres.

It will have four lanes and include flyovers and underground passages, as well as a roundabout.

The cabinet said the route was selected after an environmental study “as the best in relation with the impact on a Natura area.” The cabinet said there are no other alternatives that bypassed the area or with fewer effects, “without worse consequences on the environment and the fertile agriculture area of Koutrafas.”

The option of improving the existing road was rejected as it could not meet the objectives of the project, nor offer the same safety and access, the cabinet said.

The cabinet said it declared the project an overriding public interest after the environmental department decided to reject its construction.

In a March 8 report, the department said, “the proposed project will have negative and irreversible effects both during construction and during operation on the protected species inside the special protection area (SPA) of the Natura 2000 area of Atsas and Ayios Theodoros.”

The report said the project would impact the habitats, feeding areas, and consistency of the area.

Experts expect a loss of reproductive populations of 20 per cent and 25 per cent respectively in European Rollers and Eurasian Stone-Curlew. The Woodlark population is also expected to be affected.

The project, however, could create problems for Cyprus since the EU habitats directive does not take overriding public interest at face value.

“If, in spite of a negative assessment of the implications for the site and in the absence of alternative solutions, a plan or project must nevertheless be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature, the Member State shall take all compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected. It shall inform the Commission of the compensatory measures adopted,” according to Article 6.4

Article 6.3 notes that any project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. “The competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.”