Aegean islands scarred by illegal development

From Ornos on Myconos, where some buildings are much larger than permitted by law, to Vathi on the island of Samos, where luxury estates violate every concept of aesthetics and legality, from Baxedes in Oia, Santorini, where the coastline has been filled in, to the luxury villas at Aghios Antonios on the island of Paros, and from Mylopotamos on Ios, to Aghios Lazaros on Myconos, where some people have quarried a hillside in order to «landscape» their gardens, building regulations are being flagrantly violated all over the Aegean. The unfortunate thing is that this could have been avoided if the State had strictly applied presidential decrees issued a year ago on the initiative of Aegean Minister Nikos Sifounakis, setting conditions for building on 27 small and medium-sized islands. Amendments now introduced by Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou not only negate the initiative to retain the character of traditional settlements but any effort to control illegality. Rapid housing development on the islands, the complete absence of zoning policy, infrequent inspections, corruption in zoning bureaus, a lack of education and landowners’ provincial attitudes are all contributing to the destruction of one of our greatest tourism assets – the Aegean landscape. Nevertheless, government action is still characterized by double-talk, backsliding, a complete lack of coordination and a slapdash approach. A year ago, the Council of State ratified the new building regulations on 27 islands, imposing restrictions on the height of buildings and the maximum surface area allowable (not more than 150 square meters, no double or triple basements, and no artificial landscaping of ground levels). Now the environment and public works minister has made it possible to get a building permit without a complete architectural plan, but simply with a diagram showing the extent of the surface area. Building is allowed on any slope, no matter how steep. Above all, the amendments give the go-ahead to outstanding building permits on the islands as part of a five-year transition period when the conditions for construction and land use change for a particular area. That is, for five years, changes will not apply to those building permits that have already been issued or applied for. Two ministries dispute The dispute between the Aegean Ministry and the Environment and Public Works Ministry over the conditions for construction in the Aegean goes back some way. It began when Sifounakis drafted a presidential decree for the approval of the Council of State «on the definition of property and special construction regulations» for the islands of Kythnos, Halki and Serifos, doubling from 4,000 to 8,000 square meters the minimum size of a plot of land on which building was permissible. The Council approved the legality of the decree in principle, sparking protests from local residents and organizations and three PASOK deputies. In April 2002, the prime minister intervened to put a stop to Sifounakis’s initiative and all the presidential decrees on building regulations which had been drafted by the Aegean Ministry were reviewed by a special committee. Meanwhile, the Environment and Public Works Ministry was given exclusive powers to decide how and where people could build on the larger islands. A few months later, in November 2002, the Aegean minister announced the presidential decrees for plots of land outside town zoning limits on 27 small and medium-sized islands, and the building regulations for a total of 245 traditional settlements on the islands of Serifos, Kythnos, Kimolos, Donousa, Ano Koufonisi, Irakleia, Schinousa, Amorgos, Anafi, Sikinos, Folegandros, Tilos, Nisyros, Halki, Megisti (Kastellorizo), Kasos, Telendos, Pserimos, Astypalaia, Leipsoi, Agathonisi, Arkoi, Aghios Efstratios, Oinouses, Psara, Fournoi and Thymaina. Minimum size of plots outside the town plan was set at 4,000 square meters for construction to begin. The maximum size of a building is set at 150 square meters and the maximum height 4.5 meters for a private home, taking into account the natural slope of the ground. A building permit application requires an architectural study, approved first of all by the island’s engineers and then by the Town Planning, Housing and Environment Councils. If there are any doubts, on-site inspections are made. The abovementioned building regulations in a few, but important, cases are canceled out by the Environment and Public Works Ministry’s new amendments. The presidential decrees were aimed at restricting rampant construction in the Aegean, where, according to ministry figures, at least 7,000 new building permits are issued every year. Between 1991 and 1999, the number of visitors doubled from 3.2 million to 6.6 million. That is why Sifounakis proposed that on islands with the most tourism such as Myconos and Santorini, no holiday homes or rooms for rent should be built outside settlements.