By Tom Cleaver and Elias Hazou
Contractors have been ordered to halt all construction work within the Akamas national forest until December 18, while a group of experts review whether the tarmacked roads built are in breach of the development plan for the area, it emerged on Thursday.
The news came following the meeting of the cabinet. Other than the work stoppage, experts will visit the area on December 16 to assess the specifications of the built roads. A second on-site visit will take place in January, after which local government authorities will be briefed.
By March 2024 all the findings and recommendations of the team of experts will be presented. An ad hoc committee reviewing the Special Ecological Assessment – comprising NGOs – will be briefed on these findings.
Road works in environmentally-sensitive Akamas have come under severe scrutiny in recent weeks, with environmental organisations complaining of violations to the Akamas National Forest Plan.
The organisations had said the roads had been widened more than what was foreseen in the plan, by 10 metres instead of six metres and unnecessary retaining walls had been built, amongst other violations.
Also on Thursday, and just before the cabinet convened, the Cyprus Federation of Environmental Organsations called on the government to “rise to the occasion” by taking responsible decisions regarding construction works in Akamas.
They added that they welcome the government’s decision to end what they described as “destructive” works in the region.
In addition, they called on Environment Minister Petros Xenophontos to “immediately bring forward restoration work” in the areas damaged by construction and said he should “aim to declare Akamas’ Natura2000 areas a national park of international standards.”
They also demanded he launch a “comprehensive review and redesign” of the national park, “so that its serious structural weaknesses are corrected, and international principles and standards of national parks are respected.”
Furthermore, they said, “now is the time to re-evaluate the usefulness, appropriateness, and compatibility of the entire project,” and said the compatibility of the entire project with the goal of protecting Akamas and supporting local communities should be under review.
Their calls come after Xenophontos held an investigation into the works and how they had allegedly deviated from the plans.
The result of the investigation revealed various irregularities and discrepancies that have raised eyebrows among environmentalists and officials alike.
It primarily highlighted issues with the environmental impact assessment for the Akamas park sustainable management plan.
Additionally, it underlined discrepancies between the ecological evaluation and the subsequent environmental approval granted for the project.
Xenophontos had on Tuesday emphasised that the findings of this administrative investigation would significantly aid in addressing two key priorities: the restoration of the environment by halting unnecessary construction activities, and the meticulous completion of the project with well-planned, careful and phased steps.
He had added on Wednesday that “the administrative investigation showed that the environmentalists’ assertions were just.”