Environment minister waters down bill

Environment Minister Tina Birbili on Wednesday heralded a legislative amendment that would allow all landowners possessing less than 0.4 hectares (4 stremmata) in areas protected by the European Union?s Natura 2000 program ? a network designed to protect threatened habitats and species – to build on these plots as long as they have been legally registered by March 1.

The amendment is a watered-down version of Birbili?s original bid to curb construction in conservation areas. It comes two months after MPs on Parliament?s environmental affairs committee, including several deputies of ruling PASOK, rose up against the minister when she sought to raise the minimum limit for construction to one hectare (10 stremmata) of land from building in Natura-protected areas.

Still the concession failed to win over opposition MPS. Deputies of the main conservative opposition New Democracy and of the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) said they would vote against the bill in its current form. One concern regards certain legal barriers to registering plots of land. Deputies of the Communist Party (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), on the other hand, called for stricter regulations to protect areas of natural beauty.

Birbili defended the revised bill. ?This reform demonstrates our determination to regulate construction outside the town plan while also guaranteeing the fair treatment of landowners possessing plots smaller than one hectare,? the minister said.

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