NEWS

Housing plans threaten ancient rock formation on the isle of Serifos

Curbing illegal construction and protecting sites of natural beauty necessitate more than laws; the State must be vigilant in order to nip any infringements in the bud. A striking example of the undeclared war between offenders and supporters of the environment on the Cycladic islands is the case of Serifos. Some people are trying to build a house on top of some superb complexes of Cyclopean rocks – exceptional examples of natural formations dating from the early Cycladic period that have remained untouched for thousands of years – despite the fact that in 2002 all of Serifos (as well as Kythnos and Folegandros) was declared a site of exceptional natural beauty and is protected by a presidential decree which recently became law. Permit frozen In this particular area, the owners of a seaside plot of land wanted to build a house that would have irreversible consequences for the environment, since the original plan entailed placing the building directly on top of the Cyclopean rocks. But in the small community of the island, this was soon noticed and residents made complaints which came to the attention of the authorities, who did an about-turn and called a temporary halt to proceedings. Work on the building has stopped, because the permits have not even been signed by the town-planning authorities on Milos. Meanwhile, Aegean Ministry sources told Kathimerini that the Council for Town Planning and the Environment (SXOP) gave a positive response (after an on-site inspection) on condition that no building was erected on top of the rocks and that the natural configuration of the landscape was absolutely to be respected. Though the rock complexes of Serifos were never protected by specific decrees from the Culture Ministry as there was no evidence to support the view that they had any special archaeological or historical value, nevertheless the 2002 presidential decree does protect the natural and built environment of the island and mandates the protection of natural formations. No surveyor’s reports The story began on Serifos when the owners of a plot of land in Ramos decided to get a permit for a house. To get the permit, they first had to get an opinion from SXOP on Syros. When they posted the application, the owners allegedly forgot to attach the surveyor’s reports showing the existence of the rock formation. But residents familiar with the matter wrote a series of letters asking SXOP to make an on-site inspection before the permit was issued. The council asked for the plans to be modified, and waited without conducting an inspection. The residents made more complaints, which reached the newly established team of special environmental inspectors. After receiving a document from the general inspector of the Planning and Environment Ministry (YPEHODE), M. Karavassili, the Milos town-planning authority, conducted an inspection, the findings of which were clear. The permits could not be issued because the plans contravened the regulations in many ways that would harm the rock formations. So any building work was temporarily halted. At the same time the authority informed SXOP on Syros, giving its opinion that «the granite rocks with their interesting shapes may not be remarkable, but that does not mean that their destruction or removal from the plot in question [is called for].» «It is a fact that there are no clear and specific regulations protecting these formations,» Karavassili told Kathimerini, «but we all know that they must not be destroyed. Besides, that’s why Serifos is protected by law. It is an island with an exceptional landscape and everyone must respect it. Our office will not sit with its arms folded. If the authorities don’t do their job properly, then the public administration inspectors will need to intervene to impose stiff fines on the owners. In any case, the matter is under close observation.» The Aegean Ministry has made clear statements on the matter. As a ministry official told Kathimerini: «The approval for the plot in question was issued on condition that the building is not to be erected on top of the rocks or to be allowed to destroy them. Even though there is no specific survey evaluating the historical and geological worth of the formations, the ministry still insists that they be preserved as they are, without alterations, since they are a component of the natural landscape. Besides, that is why the plans of the building were examined many times, to find the best solution that would not endanger the character of the landscape.»