Conservationists breathed sighs of relief as the environment department’s first opinion on the government’s revised Akamas plan saw fat red lines drawn over it, but serious concerns remain.
“I’m happy with what they’ve done with the protected areas, it says development may not occur within 500 metres of those Natura 2000 areas,” Charalambos Theopemptou, Greens party leader, told the Cyprus Mail. “But then you say ‘woah’: if it’s just beyond that what on earth will be allowed?”
His comments on Wednesday refer to red lines laid down by the department such as that developments will not be allowed up to 200m from the Natura 2000 network to the east of the existing residential zone of Neo Chorio for example.
However, the Greens leader sought to emphasise that the council of ministers has immense power and can even overturn the protected status of such areas.
“Don’t forget that the Ayia Napa marina was done in a protected area and the council of ministers said that this area no longer has that status and we’ll protect another area instead,” he said.
Elsewhere, supermarkets, petrol stations and shopping centres will not be permitted within 300 metres of the Akamas villages development limits – as laid out in the department’s opinion, released on Tuesday.
Other considerable cuts were made, too, such as banning the creation of parking spots and refreshment centres within the Natura 2000 areas. Environmental information centres were also slashed. Those points, it was feared, would ‘salami-slice’ the protected areas.
“It’s truly unthinkable, they just stuffed the plan with whatever came into their mind,” Theopemptou said.
Other notable red lines are that the residential zone of Droushia should not be extended west of the existing one, while the tourist zoning of Kathikas is to be abolished. Crucially for the environmentalists, scattered residencies within the peninsula were also cut.
The opinion on the protected areas warned of “cumulative, negative and irreversible impacts” on the special conservation zone and the Akamas protection zone.
But Theopemptou emphasised that we are now waiting for the final strategic impact assessment which include its opinion on parts of Akamas which are outside of the protected areas.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen to rest, because the whole area of Akamas is comprised of the protected areas as well as the state-owned forest, and the rest which is neither, and that’s what we’re scared of what they’ll do,” he explained.
“For the latter sections, the environment department may say we don’t like what you’re going to do – developments and such – but then they [those seeking development] can go to the council of ministers and obtain an exception,” Theopemptou said.
Elsewhere, the hunting federation – which appears to be in an alliance of convenience with the conservationists – expressed its cautious optimism on the department’s opinion.
Elias Pekris, head of the hunting federation, said that they are happy with the opinion but that many issues remain unresolved – such as what happens to those who own land in Akamas and cannot develop it.
“We cannot tell them that only they must sacrifice themselves for the environment for the benefit of us all,” he told Sigma on Wednesday.
But Pekris’ attempt to assuage the landowners’ concerns fell on deaf ears.
Savvas Hadjiminas, head representative of the Akamas landowners’ association, hit back saying that they will now spearhead efforts to ban hunting within Akamas and all surrounding communities.
He further decried the move towards zero development in the Akamas, saying that ‘thousands of landowners will don the black’.