NEWS

Political hue to plans to raze illegal buildings

GIORGOS LIALIOS, YIANNIS SOULIOTIS

TAGS: Politics, Fires

Authorities are this week to continue knocking down homes that were destroyed in last month’s Attica wildfires, as notifications start going out to owners of properties deemed to have been illegally built on forestland or coastlines ahead of demolitions slated to begin in the middle of September.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said his government would knock down 3,200 illegally-built properties after authorities said that there were dozens of such structures in Mati, the coastal settlement in eastern Attica that was the worst hit by the July 23 fires.

The practice of authorities demolishing illegal buildings in a pre-election period is all but unheard of. On the contrary, successive governments have tended to legalize so-called “afthaireta” in the months leading to polls in a bid to win round voters.

In view of this tradition, the announcement about the demolitions campaign by the current leftist-led administration initially caused some confusion. However, it appears that the properties slated for demolition, at least in the first phase, are located in affluent areas, including along the Athens-Sounio coastal highway. As these are traditionally conservative areas, the impact of demolitions is unlikely to affect SYRIZA’s performance in forthcoming elections.

Environment Minister Giorgos Stathakis, who announced last week that demolitions would begin in mid-September, has insisted that the government’s aim is to “quickly restore legality.”

“The priority is [to knock down] illegal constructions along the coastline and in national forestland, as well as buildings whose owners have agreed to demolish to avoid the penalties,” he told 24/7 FM last Friday.

Ahead of next month’s demolition campaign, authorities have been knocking down properties destroyed in July’s deadly wildfires. Four properties out of some 900 that were razed by the fires have been knocked down and orders are out for the demolition of dozens more.

Meanwhile, as a probe into the devastating blazes gathers pace, an increasing amount of evidence is pointing to the slow response of authorities and rescue services, and to apparent efforts to conceal the extent of the tragedy. According to documents of the Health Ministry’s National Operations Center (EKEPY) seen by Kathimerini, the first death was reported at 9.33 p.m. on July 23, several hours before the authorities admitted that the blaze had caused fatalities.

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