pledges sea change
News, 23 October 2009
Tina Birbili made a bold start at the head of the country's first separate
environment ministry, promising significant changes in the fields of
renewable energy and town planning.
By saying she will rip up large sections of her predecessor's most
recent legislation, Birbili made a clean break from former environment
and public works minister Yiorgos Souflias' contentious "master plan" to
extend Athens and froze for six months the law allowing homeowners
to effectively legalise illegal extensions by paying a penalty charge.
"We have had many meetings with the relevant parties and we concluded
that we cannot proceed with a measure that has income - and not town
planning - as its principal consideration, and certainly has no environmental
benefit," Birbili told journalists on October 22.
Souflias had hoped to raise up to 1.2 billion euros in fees from homeowners
willing to declare they had illegally enclosed areas designated as "semi-open" spaces
on building plans to increase the living area of their houses and apartments.
Birbili said that those who have already paid an estimated 50 million
euros to town-planning authorities would not be immediately reimbursed
but would be handled separately once the revised plans are announced
in six months' time.
She stressed that the ministry would be open to proposals before tabling
In the space of one week, Birbili committed to tackling many of the
country's most glaring environmental issues or, in her words, be judged
In her inaugural speech to parliament, on October 16, she said her
ministry's priority will be to table legislation protecting the recently
burnt areas of Attica from being taken over by illegal construction.
And, in what appears to be the most blatant attack on Souflias' policies,
she expressed the intention to reverse the Athens extension plan along
with the recently adopted tourism zoning plan.
Environmental groups, hoteliers and a host of other organisations had
heavily criticised Souflias for paving the way for mass development
on islands. Meanwhile, the Athens plan envisaged the construction of
a network of motorways and tunnels linking the south coast to north
Athens and the extension of the city into the so-called Attica basin.
Instead, Barbili said the old master plan would be reviewed to include
only "mild development". However, she echoed Prime Minister George
Papandreou's pledge to proceed with developing disused Olympic Games
sites along the coast.
"Athens will open up towards the sea and, with the assistance of the
relevant municipalities, we will establish low-traffic roads and cycle
and pedestrian routes," Barbili said.
Also in the environment minister's sights is the proposed landfill
in Grammatiko, northern Attica, which she said would be built after
all but would take in processed - and not raw - household waste.
The dump, which is badly needed to share the burden with the landfill
in Fyli - currently Attica's only legal household waste-processing
facility - has been opposed by local residents.