The government said yesterday it had approved the environmental effects study for the biggest ever tourism development project in the country. The 1.2-billion-euro project concerns the construction, on a concession basis, of six tourist villages on 2,500 hectares belonging to the Toplou monastery on the Cavo Sidero peninsula of northeastern Crete. The development, which will create about 3,000 jobs in the area, is being implemented by the Minoan Group (formerly Loyalward Group) and will basically comprise five hotel complexes, totaling a capacity of 7,000 beds. It will also include three golf courses, a sports center with soccer, basketball and volleyball facilities, and a conference center capable of hosting 1,200 participants. Minoan’s chief financial officer, Aristos Vassiliadis, told Kathimerini the investment will be implemented in two phases; the approval of the environmental effects study will be followed by approval of the architectural design by the Greek National Tourism Organization and the issuing of the building license. The first of five hotels will open for business 18 months after the commencement of construction work. According to the concession agreement, which has a duration of 40 years and may be extended for 40 more, the Toplou monastery will receive 10 percent of annual revenue. The concessionaire will construct all necessary infrastructure for the protection of the local environment, such as waste treatment, desalination and recycling plants. The initial plan, submitted in 1994, met with strong reactions by local interest groups which especially feared the effects of the high water requirements of golf courses on the local environment. Besides the monastery, the attractions of the locality include the Minoan ruins at Itanos and the famous Vai beach, the site of Europe’s only indigenous palm forest. The site will be a 30-minute drive from the nearest airport, at Siteia.