National zoning plan for Greece
Athens News 29 February 20087

"Bringing order to the building anarchy of Greece" was the way Environment and Public Works Minister George Souflias described the finalised national zoning plan, which was unveiled on February 27. Having been approved by the inner cabinet earlier that day, the plan will now be put to parliament before Easter. Seen as essential for the sustainable development of industry, tourism and housing, the country's first such national zoning plan could, therefore, become a reality by summer.

"This national zoning plan is one of the most important structural changes to have taken place in this country in recent decades. From now, everyone will know what they are able to do and where," said Souflias. He conceded, however, that the plan, which is to be supplemented by more specific zoning plans for tourism, industrial and renewable energy installations, is no more than a guideline and will only be properly enforceable once nationwide land and forest registries have been completed.

Specifically, the zoning plan outlines the completion of land and forest registries and the streamlining of municipalities, prefects and regions (all within four years of the plan being passed by parliament), the completion of studies on 80 protected Natura 2000 sites (by 2013) and the completion of sewage and waste treatment facilities for areas of more than 2,000 people (within five years). The plan envisages zones identifying areas for industrial and tourism development. These zones, said Souflias, would be supervised and the law enforced through fines. However, the plan stopped short of banning or further restricting out-of-town planning construction (viewed as a motivating factor for forest-burning) as proposed in draft versions of the 77-page document.

"This is a significant step in the right direction, but I have many reservations," Vivi Batsou, a senior member of the representation committee of the Technical Chamber of Greece - the state advisory body of engineers and architects - told this newspaper. "It is no more than a guideline. The real question is whether the ministry will be consistent with its interpretation and say that the same rules apply in, say, Komotini and Crete, or whether the current situation where each municipality does its own thing will prevail."

She added that out-of-town planning construction has been extremely damaging to Greece environmentally. "There are a series of exceptions through which out-of-town planning construction is made possible," she explained. "Strictly speaking, you need four stremmata (4,000m2) of land in order to build out of town. In reality, this can come down to 750m2 if you meet certain provisions - for instance, if the land was owned by someone before 1960 or if your land is next to a road linking towns. This is why you see so many buildings along out-of-town roads." Batsou acknowledged, however, that a strict ban on such construction would be virtually unenforceable in the absence of land and forest registries.

Indeed, Souflias outlined that the completion of the forest registry would highlight many instances of illegal construction now deemed acceptable. "Some have said that aerial photographs from 1945 should be used in making the forest registry," said Souflias. "This would expose our hypocrisy as it would show entire suburbs of Athens built on what was once forestland. Would we then demolish these suburbs?" He suggested the use of photographs from 1960, the most recent comprehensive aerial photographs the country has.

Souflias' plan also envisages a drastic reduction in the number of municipalities (currently over 1,000), prefectures and regions across Greece.