Plan to curb unlawful construction on islands
Athens Plus, 23 April 2010

A plan being drafted by the Environment Ministry and due to be made public in the coming weeks aims to drastically curb the widespread illegal construction that is damaging the environment and traditional character of several Aegean islands.

According to sources, the planned reforms will roughly reflect the provisions of a presidential decree drawn up for the protection of Andros, the northernmost of the Cyclades.

If these provisions are followed, a series of restrictions will be imposed, including a ban on construction less than 100 meters from the coastline, the prohibition of deviations from regulations and a ban on the practice by municipal authorities of opening up new roads to beaches.

The rate of construction in the Cyclades in particular has been relentless over the past decade with 3,079 new residences registered on these islands alone in 2004, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority.

Research by Kathimerini has revealed that hundreds of new building licenses are granted each year - about 500 on Paros, 300 each on Santorini and Naxos, 250 on Kea and another 250 on Andros.

Many of these licenses are being snapped up by contractors keen to tap into the lucrative tourism market by building rental accommodation. But many of these units are slated for construction on pristine land, much of it protected by law.

The feverish construction activity has prompted the protests of many local authorities due to fears that the traditional character of their islands will be compromised.

The community leader of Oia, an extremely popular tourist resort on Santorini, last week lodged a complaint with the ministry, reporting at least one instance of alleged illegal construction. The ministry is looking into the allegations, which relate to the construction of a large unit in a prime location on Oia’s famed caldera, which is theoretically a protected area. Work on the unit was reportedly suspended following the complaint.

According to Oia’s community leader Giorgos Halaris, certain individuals are using licenses issued for the modification of properties to build new illegal structures. Halaris highlights five alleged transgressions of this kind in the past two years. One of the illicit projects is said to have created the risk of landslides, as the rock face into which the new property is being built has not been fenced off properly.

With its new initiative, the ministry aims to limit construction on islands including Santorini to within the borders of existing settlements and thus ensure that the remaining areas of natural beauty are left intact.

Santorini Mayor Angelos Roussos told Kathimerini that apart from the damage to the island's unique natural environment, uncontrolled construction was also a financial burden. "Construction outside the villages and settlements costs a lot for the state and local authorities, which are then called upon to hook up water and electricity supply, gather trash and open up new roads," he said. "Moreover, it destroys the natural environment and, in areas like ours, this could have major consequences."

The ministry's plan is expected to be implemented first on islands such as Santorini, with its singular rock formations and volcanic landscape, before being extended to parts of the mainland deemed to be environmentally sensitive.

Yiannis Alavanos, president of the Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE), welcomed the measures. "There has to be a stop to this wretched state of affairs that is ruining the unique wealth of our islands," he told Kathimerini. "The only solution is better planning and restrictions," he said.