NEWS

Bill to curb building in conservation areas diluted

Environment Minister Tina Birbili on Wednesday watered down draft legislation aimed at curbing construction in conservation areas, adding an 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.

The new bill is a diluted version of an original draft presented by Birbili two months ago but blasted by several MPs on Parliament?s environmental affairs committee, including several deputies of ruling PASOK. The original bill had sought to raise the minimum limit for construction on Natura-protected areas to 1 hectare (10 stremmata) of land.

Even its revised form, the bill failed to win over all PASOK MPs, some of whom demanded additional changes. Costas Kartalis, who is head of Parliament?s environment committee, said the bill contained ?imperfect provisions which could wreak serious damage, tipping the balance in favor of development at the expense of the environment.?

The new bill also failed to win over opposition MPs. Several deputies of the main conservative opposition New Democracy party and of the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) demanded the withdrawal of certain provisions.

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.

Earlier on Wednesday Birbili defended the revised bill, saying it struck a balance between environmental concerns and the rights of landowners. ?This reform demonstrates our determination to regulate construction outside the town plan while also guaranteeing the fair treatment of landowners possessing plots smaller than 1 hectare,? she said.