Coastal zoning plan unsatisfactory
Athens News, 11 September 2009

A new draft zoning plan for the country’s coasts and islands, released for debate by the Environment and Public Works Ministry, fails to address the question of coastal protection and greater control of construction along coastlines.

In effect, the provisions of the plan do not diverge to any extent from the basic principles of another issued in 2003,which was never instituted.

It lays out three zones, titled "Critical" (from up to 10 meters offshore to 100 meters from the coast), "Dynamic" (100 meters to 200 meters from the coastline) and "Remainder."

Swimming, fishing, fish farms and port infrastructure will be permitted in the Critical zone, along with construction under very specific conditions, chiefly those of a "public benefit" nature. In the Dynamic zone, homes, even those existing prior to 1923, will not be allowed to cover more than 60 percent of the property. Beyond the 200-meter limit, all current building regulations will be in force.

However, "other permitted uses" are referred to in the Dynamic zone, though these are not specified. More importantly, despite several rulings by the Council of State recommending no new construction within 100 meters of the shoreline, the new plan retains the existing limit of 50 meters.

Although coastal settlements have multiplied rapidly in recent years, building regulations have not changed for areas outside town plans. According to a 1999 survey of eastern Attica, the number of coastal settlements increased by 34 between 1971 and 1991 to a total of 87. In Halkidiki, northern Greece, over the same period, the number rose by 82 to total 135.

Part of the problem is that the actual shoreline has not been clearly defined in legal terms. By 2002, only 1,700 kilometers of the country’s shoreline had been determined, 11 percent of the total.

If someone wants to build in an area where the shoreline has not yet been legally established, a special committee has to be set up.

There are dozens of conflicting laws, decrees and circulars regarding the coastline - and many exceptions to them. Until 2001, the only institutional tool that regarded coastal protection dated from 1940. It safeguarded public access but failed to deal with problems resulting from an over-concentration of population, state land-grabbing and illegal construction in these areas.

In contrast to Greece, many European countries have raised the minimum distance from the shoreline at which construction is allowed. In Italy, the minimum has been 300 meters since 1985, while in Spain the first 100 meters has been characterized as state land since 1988 (with provisions for an additional 100 meters) and many activities have been banned within that limit.

In Portugal, a 1933 law set specific limitations for use of land at a distance of 500 meters from the shore.