NEWS

Legalizing scandalous deeds by invoking a law intended for Olympic Games works

The government of Costas Simitis is dealing with crucial town-planning and environmental issues by turning Parliament into a combined town-planning office and club for soccer entrepreneurs and by negating the role of the Council of State. The government has invoked a law on «dealing with matters associated with preparations for the Games and other matters,» though all but one of the projects have no connection to the Games. It is using this law to tackle the issue of the commercial-entertainment-sports center which the Granitsas administration of the AEK soccer club wishes to build on the site of the soccer stadium it demolished, and which will encroach on 0.3 hectares of a park in neighboring Nea Philadelphia. Residents of Nea Philadelphia, expressing the views supported by the majority of voters in the latest municipal elections, protested to the Council of State about the construction of the profit-making multiplex, claiming that it would be catastrophic for the environment and town planning of the municipality. The Council of State opposed the Granitsas plan in a report that stated: «The deterioration in the quality of life for residents and in the environment, due to the high proportion of buildings and extensive non-athletic activities, is still not constitutionally acceptable.» While the case is being heard by the highest court, three ministers (Vasso Papandreou, Evangelos Venizelos and Giorgos Drys) brought up an amended version of the Granitsas plan in an attempt to counter the Nea Philadelphia residents’ application to the Council of State. In fact, the new proposal is much the same as the old one with just a few minor changes. The shops will take up 20,000 square meters instead of 24,000, and the building will not be 12 stories high but only 10, according to an announcement by the EKPOIZO consumer organization. This is on a site where the existing buildings are no higher than three stories. On December 11, Granitsas announced the existence of a new plan. On the same day, Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Lianis, in charge of the sports portfolio, stated that he would present an amendment to Parliament so that work on the project could start at once. A few days later, the amendment was presented. The government is using the same law to deal with obstacles concerning the new Acropolis Museum in Makriyianni, although two separate disputes connected with the museum are due to come before the Council of State on February 6 and March 1 respectively. A memorandum that local residents sent to the parliamentary legislative committee claimed that this is unconstitutional, as «it introduces matters that are awaiting court hearings» and that it breaches Article 26 which deals with distinction of powers. «We are astonished by the cynical demotion of the legislative body to the duties of a municipal planning office,» wrote the residents. «Parliament cannot stipulate certain town-planning rules or vote on environmental studies for which other agencies and experts are responsible,» explains attorney Sotiris Christodoulos, who is acting on behalf of the residents. He says the law in question «abolishes the need for a full environmental report and is calculated to cause unacceptable deterioration of the environment with its clauses on building conditions.» All this is about a project that has met with condemnation from local residents, architects and an international meeting of the International Council on Monuments and Sites. 105,000 square meters for 1,600 journalists Some observers see the latest legislation proposed by the government as an attempt to bypass the Council of State, which has forestalled the catastrophic mania of state agencies on several occasions. The Press Village at Maroussi is a case in point: Despite a unanimous decision by the Council of State (Article 1528/03) issued in early June 2003, which ruled that the building conditions were unconstitutional and harmful to Maroussi, work on the village continues night and day (and cost the life of one worker in an accident last Wednesday). Living quarters of 35,000 square meters and a shopping-entertainment center of 70,000 square meters are being built to accommodate just 1,600 journalists. The ratio of building to empty space has been increased by 2.5 and the classification of the area changed from solely residential to «town-planning center,» in breach of all existing town-planning regulations that applied to the area before the Olympic law was invoked, as the Maroussi Citizens’ Action group complains. It seems that some people are treating the site as a choice piece of real estate to be used after the Games, and are prepared to destroy an open space that once benefited the whole area.