Progress on forest maps
Athens News, 16 July 2010

The Environment Ministry early this week announced the completion of a draft law on the designation of Greece’s forestland.

The mapping out of the country’s forested areas is an issue that has stymied successive administrations, as it is an extremely complex task in terms of the definitions of forestland that have applied over time, the various land usage designations and the fact that, in many places, there is no coordination between the different tiers of state administration involved with issuing building permits, designating zones and so on. The legal problems are also by no means easy to solve, as, in many parts of Greece, thousands of individual cases regarding the designation of plots of land or entire tracts are still pending, as they have been shunted from one ministry to another.

The new draft law has been submitted to Parliament and fast-tracked so that a decision is due within the next few days. The main points of the plan are:

• The definition of forestland will be made using a combination of aerial photographs taken in 1945 (or 1960 if older ones are not available) and recent ones. Forestland maps will be drawn up by the forestry service of each individual local authority (unfortunately there is no specified time line) or they may be assigned to private companies, as is the case with the land registry process carried out by Ktimatologio SA. It also allows private companies to be assigned the examination of cases that are subject to review.

• Once complete, the forestland map will be posted for public scrutiny at the local authority’s headquarters or at the forestry service. All maps will also be available for viewing on- line on the website of the ministry, local authorities or Ktimatologio.

• Once the maps have been published, individuals can file objections within 45 days. For the first time, objections can be filed by individuals who believe they have a claim on a particular piece of land as well as by municipalities, environmental organizations, local councils etc.

• The draft law also foresees a fee for every objection the first time it is lodged. The price has not yet been set, though it is expected to be high enough to discourage frivolous claims. Objections can be filed at Citizens’ Advice Bureaus (KEP) or electronically on Ktimatologio’s website.

• Within 40 days of the completion of the objection process, the forestry service of each individual administrative authority is expected to complete the forestland map, including only the areas that are clear of objections. With time, as each objection is reviewed and settled, the map will be completed.

• Objections, meanwhile, must be reviewed within four months of being filed. They are to be examined by specially appointed committees.

One of the biggest objectives of the draft law is to finally solve two perennial thorns: These are settlements that have been built within forestland but with the consent of the state (such as at Aghios Stephanos and Anoixi in northeast Attica) and zoning plans that are still pending approval because they allow for construction to take place in what is largely regarded as forestland.

For areas that belong to these two categories, the Environment Ministry is asking that the issuance of permits be frozen for two years so that they can be properly reviewed. Any parties involved in these cases will have the opportunity to state their positions formally, though the final decision will rest with the Environment Ministry.