By Major General Robert J Thompson
During the past 24 months the Bases have worked in close partnership with the Republic of Cyprus on many fronts, not least in handling COVID wisely, but it is probably less well-known that our police officers, fire-fighters, civil servants and military cooperate on an almost daily basis. At the same time, we have continued to deepen our friendships through our many joint charitable works, most recently raising €40,000 for two Cypriot charities on a cross island cycle ride.
Now, as we learn to live with COVID and emerge from the pandemic, I am delighted that we are able to launch Non-Military Development (NMD), our new planning regime, which will offer increased flexibility to develop private property and businesses in the Bases. Initiated by President Anastasiades and agreed by our two Governments, its launch today marks the most important change in the relationship between the Republic of Cyprus and the Bases since 1960.
Most importantly, we are delivering this change together – it is a partnership, and this step change has been achieved by working closely with the RoC Government, environmental and business groups as well as our local communities, both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot.
This is good news for all landowners in the Bases as the new system will bring a range of opportunities and benefits – including the potential to develop their property as in the Republic of Cyprus. This development also means current property owners will be able to sell their land at more competitive prices than they have been able to in the past.
Importantly, the existing rights of all landowners in the SBAs will not be affected – whether Greek or Turkish Cypriot. The new regime means new homes can be built in the Bases alongside a range of commercial, light industrial, agricultural, and tourist developments, all of which enhance the prospects for investment and growth. We are also relaxing the strict requirements on businesses wishing to operate in the Bases. New businesses will still require a licence but no longer need to provide proof of a specific military or community to apply. We will continue to update our laws to allow more types of business activity in the coming years.
Of course, there will still be some proportionate limits on the kinds of development that can take place. We have established carefully thought-through planning zones which will protect the wonderful environment that we all enjoy, including an impressive mosaic of protected habitats. As many already know, the Bases are blessed with a rich environmental diversity, including rare and endangered species, some of which can only be found here. We owe it to future generations to protect this richness.
At the same time, there will be some areas where military security remains important (and limits development), just as it does in the Republic. I must be able to continue to deliver my military tasks which play such an important part in contributing to our collective security, as nations, as Europeans and as citizens of the world especially at a time when we see our way of life under severe threat as we do now in Ukraine.
Understandably, everyone will be eager to understand what is possible and where. More information on the Zones and the policies can be found on the SBA Administration website. On our website you can also find out about the statutory objections process which will run for the next four months and provides you with an opportunity to propose amendments, if you want to propose a change.
I believe that this new planning system is a significant improvement on what is available today and offers a levelling-up for the 12,000 Cypriots who now live in the Bases. NMD will evolve over time within a carefully-composed legal framework, using rigorous administrative processes that we have designed together. It is another example of our partnership and friendship in action and I look forward to the opportunities it brings. We have designed and developed NMD together, and together we will deliver it over the days, months and years to come.
Major General Robert J Thomson is the Commander British Forces Cyprus and Administrator of Sovereign Base Areas