Monastery in Cabo Greco: What was discussed in the Environment Committee of the Parliament

Mayor of Ayia Napa: "There is a big dimension to the issue" - Environment Committee: Need for immediate action to remove illegalities in Natura areas

viber image 2024 03 19 19 21 18 904 exclusive, Natura 2000, Cape Greco Monastery, Cape Greco, Cape Greco Monastery, Environment

The Parliamentary Environment Committee, during the session on 10/04/2024, discussed the following issue:

The works of construction and construction of a temple in the "Natura" area in Cape Greco

The Committee discussed the above issue through which theConstruction and building works of a temple in a "Natura" area in Cabo Greco and the possible environmental effects.

Need for immediate action to remove illegalities in Natura areas

The need for an immediate intervention mechanism when actions that violate the legislation and alter protected areas are identified, were pointed out by the participants in the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on the Environment, which examined the possibility of environmental impacts from the construction and construction of a temple in the "Natura" area in Kavos Greco. The Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Maria Panagiotou, stated before the Commission that there is the political will to stop this phenomenon.

During the meeting, some Members of Parliament raised the issue of the deliberate highlighting of the case concerning the construction of a temple in a protected area. Specifically, the Member of Parliament of DISY, Kyriakos Hatzigianni, said that the issue was brought up for consideration in view of the pre-election period, while he spoke of buildings in Ayia Napa, which have evolved into "Chinese walls", as he said. Also, the Member of Parliament of DIKO, Chrysanthos Savvidis, said that this discussion should not be a means to attack the Church.

Still, the Member of Parliament of ELAM, Linos Papagiannis, said there are other illegalities in the area and specifically referred to a building used for holding wedding receptions. He added that the Natura area should be protected and said that all cases of illegality should be treated the same.

In this matter the Minister was also mentioned, pointing out that complaints and complaints have already been made about the specific building to the competent urban planning authority, both by the Department of the Environment, and by herself during her term as Environment Commissioner.

She pointed out that only the licensing authority has the possibility of demolition in case of violation of the legislation. As clarified at the meeting by the Director General of the Ministry of the Interior, the urban planning authority in the area in question is the Famagusta District Administration and the building authority the Municipal Council of Ayia Napa.

The Minister underlined, however, before the Commission and in response to interventions that spoke of the presence of other violations of the legislation in the region, that the fact that omissions or mistakes were made in the past does not give anyone an alibi to continue the illegalities. He also said that no one disputes the purpose of the project, but pointed out that the discussion is about how and what was done and not about its purpose.

The timeline of the complaint

The phenomenon of the perpetuation of illegalities in constructions that are planned and erected, without having previously secured the required permits, occupied a large part of the discussion in the Committee, while the possibility of something like this happening in the case of the work on the Church block was highlighted, since the Metropolis Famagusta, after the interventions made by the Ministry of Environment, filed a hierarchical appeal in order to stop the order for the demolition of the illegal constructions.

As the Minister, Maria Panagiotou, explained before the Commission, the complaint was received by herself on 16/3/2024 and related to illegal works on a plot of property of the church in Kavo Greko, within the Natura 2000 protected area, without having secured the required permits . As the Minister said, according to the legislation it should be examined whether a project in a Natura area affects the area.

"The Department of the Environment, on March 19, acted immediately with on-site visits and with a written notification, both to the owners and to the competent services and local authorities, requesting the need to end the work and remove the illegality," said the Minister , adding that "several site visits by nature's echelons followed, to document the damage and confirm the termination of the work."

In the meantime, direct consequences for the offenders arose only after an inspection by an echelon of the Game Service, which imposed a fine of 2000 euros, which was paid the day after it was imposed, as reported to the Commission. The Minister explained during her deposition that the possible effects on the birdlife of the area, due to the works, also answer the argument that there was no natural vegetation on the block, but crops.

Following the Demolition Enforcement Notice sent by the Department of Town Planning to the Metropolis on 28/3/2024, demolition plans were requested from the Department of the Environment, which should have been submitted by 2/4/2024. This was delayed, as the Minister explained, due to the hierarchical appeal filed by the Diocese.

Mrs. Panagiotou emphasized that "regardless of the outcome of the hierarchical appeal, we will issue the terms of demolition at a session of the Ad hoc Committee", which, as she said, is scheduled for early next week. Mrs. Panagiotou assured that she sticks to the position of removing the illegalities and restoring any environmental damage that may have been caused.

He noted, however, before the Commission, that it is not enough to take measures after the fact, but these situations must be prevented. He noted that the Ministry is working on further strengthening of environmental control and changes in the legislation for the protection of nature, where a gap has been found, while regulation by extrajudicial means against the violators is also being considered.

In the need to apply stricter measures he advocated and the Director General of the Ministry of the Interior, Elikkos Ilias, who said that cases of illegality should not reach this point. He noted, in fact, that an effort is being made to "household" the licensing and control procedures, so that they are not delivered with problems to the new competent authorities, which will take over after the Local Government elections.

Mr. Ilias noted that after the complaints and the taking of measures by the Department of the Environment, the owner of the lot proceeded to submit a town planning application for deviation, before proceeding with the hierarchical appeal on April 3. The hierarchical appeal, as he explained, will be examined by the urban planning authority and then its views will be sent to the Ministry of the Interior, for the Minister to decide whether to reject it or accept it.

If the appeal is rejected, Mr. Ilias continued, but the violator continues to not comply, the Ministry will resort to the Legal Service to take legal action, with the demand for the demolition of the structures, which is a time-consuming process, as he said. Answering questions from journalists after the meeting, Mr. Ilias said that a judicial process lasts more than a year.

However, as he mentioned in his intervention the Director of the Urban Planning Department, in a zone of absolute protection, such as Cabo Greco, no constructions can be erected. Moreover, the Director of the Environment Department, Lakis Mesimeris, responding to a question from the President of the Committee, Charalambos Theopeptou, noted that following the relevant opinion of the Attorney General, the Department of the Environment does not carry out evaluations of environmental studies for projects, after construction work has already been carried out.

The representative of the Ministry of Finance, Michalis Papadopoulos, was invited to be placed on the Committee regarding a matter concerning the circulation of lottery tickets to collect money for the construction of the temple. He explained that no application had been submitted for the issuance of lottery tickets and therefore no permission had been given for their circulation. For this reason, he said that communication was made with the Metropolis, so that the circulation of the lottery tickets could be stopped and money that had already been collected would be returned.

Need for immediate demolition measures

The need to create an institutional framework that will allow the competent authorities to immediately enforce the demolition of illegal constructions, both for cases concerning protected areas and for all the rest of the country's regions, was highlighted by the interventions of many agencies and organizations.

The Office of the Environment Commissioner specifically referred to the case under consideration, expressing the position that the only way is to demolish the structures and restore the natural environment.

The opinion that stricter measures are needed from the state and possibly a mechanism for the immediate demolition of illegalities was also expressed the ETEK representative, noting as extremely worrying the repeated incidents of construction of buildings without permits.

He also mentioned that ETEK is already conducting an investigation into the researchers responsible for the specific project in Cabo Greco, adding that if it becomes clear that there are responsibilities, those involved will be referred to the disciplinary board. In conducting the investigation, ETEK is also cooperating with the Association of Architects, whose representative told the Commission that a way should be found to impose penalties out of court and ex officio.

Mayor of Ayia Napa: "There is a big dimension to the issue"

The Mayor of Ayia Napa, Christos Zannetos, said that Local Authorities are asking to be given the power to issue same-day enforcement orders and stop illegal activities immediately. Regarding the specific project, he noted that the illegality came to the attention of the Municipality on March 1 and the Municipal Council met on the matter on 12/3/2024. The Municipality sent a letter to the church to suspend work on 20/3.

However, Mr. Zannetos raised before the Commission a question about whether there was a consultation before declaring the area Natura, saying that more than 50% of the area of ​​Ayia Napa is a protected and forested area. He also said that a great dimension is given to the case of the construction of the temple, saying that this was not done elsewhere, in cases of construction of apartment buildings in areas with antiquities.

Illegalities set a bad precedent, environmental organizations say

The representatives of the environmental organizations raised a question about the messages sent to the citizens, as well as to the EU, by the tolerance of illegalities, especially in protected areas.

The representative of the Federation of Environmental Organizations he raised the question, if this project is not demolished, what will the state say to the ordinary citizen who is illegal. He also touched on the issue that there will be new charges from Brussels and all citizens will be asked to pay the fine that will be imposed.

He also said that the church should consider the environment as God's house and that the Municipality of Ayia Napa should consider the fact that the area has so much forest vegetation and is designated as Natura an advantage, as this is what tourists are now looking for.

The representative of Terra Cypria called it legally unsound to question whether the area should have been declared Natura 16 years ago. He also emphasized that there can be no two standards for illegalities, and that the competent authorities should also take action on the building where wedding receptions are held, which was erected in 1993 with residence permits, before it was declared a protected area.

The representative of the Ecological Movement he pointed out that, among other things, the Department of Environment has not issued Natura plans in the area, nor does it have an officer in Famagusta District. He also noted that there are at least 20 illegals in the area, but no deterrent measure has been applied, beyond the fine of the Game Service. He also added that the Legal Service could start a procedure based on the environmental protection law of the criminal law, for the immediate removal of the illegalities.

Locations of MPs

He expressed disappointment the President of the Committee and Member of Parliament of the Environmental Movement, Charalambos Theopeptou, saying that there are shortcomings both legislative, but also in terms of the executive power, as a result of which they are unable to demolish the illegal construction. He expressed the hope that the legislative changes that the Ministry of the Interior wants to promote will soon be sent to Parliament for discussion in the Interior Committee.

He also explained that the special European legislation that governs Natura areas does not allow someone to start work and then get a permit, but they will have to do demolition and restoration and then get a permit. He also pointed out that this particular area is one of the few in Cyprus, for which the Church could exchange its piece with another and build the church outside a protected area.

He also pointed out that the Environmental Liability Law, which imposes large fines and obliges the offender to bear the costs of restoration, was not put into effect, just as it was not put into effect for the interventions in "Ammos tou Kabouris". He noted that environmental legislation should be used, warning that "any continuation of construction will lead us to terrible adventures with the European Union, because they are already examining us for violations within Natura 2000 areas."

DISY Member of Parliament, Prodromos Alabritis, speaking to the Commission pointed out the need to review the law enforcement process. DISY Member of Parliament, Rita Superman added that a framework must be put in place to end such actions immediately.

AKEL Member of Parliament, Andreas Kavkalias, stated in his statements that AKEL requested to register and discuss the issue, emphasizing that no one should be exempt from the laws, not even the church. "What is required is the observance and enforcement of the legislation and of course the immediate restoration of the environmental damage", he noted.

He added that the only concern is the protection of the environment, in particular, with regard to protected areas and expressed strong concern "about the all-out attack on the environment by illegal developments, the destruction of protected habitats and the piecemeal implementation of legislation regarding protection networks of nature".

The Member of Parliament of DIKO, Christos Orfanidis, said that no one deprives anyone of the right to register any issue with the Commission, regarding illegalities and environmental impacts and refuted allegations of pre-election expediencies behind raising the issue.

The independent Member of Parliament, Alexandra Attalidou, spoke of a very worrying situation in her statements. "The law is the law," he said, adding that "the citizens and organizations of this place must have equality, otherwise it is cultivated by tolerating any illegality, encouraging whoever wants to do whatever they want." He pointed out that there is no hatred towards the Church and that he expects the Church, which asks for the application of God's law, to respect the law of the state as well. Finally, he welcomed the position of the Minister for the removal of illegality, as well as the work of environmental organizations.