Souflias backs forest changes

Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias said yesterday he supports proposed changes to Article 24 of the Constitution allowing for the legal reclassification of forest areas. Souflias, who was reappointed as head of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works Ministry, told journalists that changes to forest classifications need to be done based on aerial photographs taken in 1960 and not in 1945. The government has been accused of giving in to pressure from property developers and looking for a way to build on razed forestland by using more recent photographs that depict less forested land. Souflias also said he was not in favor of creating a separate environment ministry. «We are in a crucial period for Greece, we cannot be talking about such a split. Possibly after two to three years when things get moving,» he said. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had left open the possibility of the government creating a separate environment ministry during his pre-election campaign - an option that seems to have been forgotten quickly. «What is important is that there is harmony between growth and coordination with public works that respect the environment,» he said. Souflias also said that he will stop the Finance Ministry from allowing the Municipality of Zacharo in the western Peloponnese to develop parts of burnt beachfront property. The agreement also legalizes hundreds of buildings that have been illegally constructed in the area on the grounds that the changes will help to support the local economy. Experts believe the decision will have a negative impact on the sensitive ecosystem in the area, a district that is protected by the European Union's Natura program. «It is our responsibility that there are no violations of environmental laws and Natura regulations,» added the minister.