Forests to be redefined

Keeping up its barrage of vote-grabbing measures of the past few weeks, the government appears to be planning to give in to the wishes of some 500,000 members of housing cooperatives who have been unable to build because their property lay in areas which have been defined as forest areas. But it may also solve problems caused by a rigid former system in which many built-up areas are still defined as forestland. Prime Minister Costas Simitis met yesterday with Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys to prepare for tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting on new legislation concerning forestry policy. Sources say that the legislation will try to deal with problems that have arisen over years of inflexible policy, and that in some cases the aerial photographs of 1945 which have defined forest areas will not be binding. Furthermore, housing cooperatives may be presented with the option of being given other areas in which to build if the one they have chosen cannot be declassified as a forest area. Drys said the government would announce measures after tomorrow’s meeting. But, one ministry source said, the law «will solve many problems.» The new legislation may also deal with many thousands of people, aside from those who are members of housing cooperatives, who have problems with the State because their land has been declared a forest area. The Environment and Public Works Ministry, which last week presented legislation that will allow some 200,000 owners of illegally built homes to be hooked up to the public utilities grid, is also trying to solve the problem caused by construction on forestland. It is preparing legislation that will grant rights to people who have been in possession of a plot of land for more than 30 years or have had legal title to it for at least 10 years. If the State has not tried to get back this property in the abovementioned period, it will give up its rights. These measures are to be presented to a multi-party committee as the ministry wants consensus on the issue. If agreement is reached in time, this will be presented as an amendment to the bill on forestry policy. The new law will define forest areas and set out instances in which the protection of such areas may be lifted. «A definitive tidying up of the problem has to be achieved in a modern manner,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said.

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