Fighting illegal building

Builders used to erecting structures without permits in the municipality of Athens will have to kick the habit. Files on illegal buildings that were listed for removal as long as 13 years ago are being dusted off and handed over to demolition squads that will start work in late October. City Hall’s decision to embark on a demolition campaign, which no municipal authority in the city has done since the restoration of democracy in 1974, is certain to create some problems, officials believe. But the problems created by illegal structures – especially those that encroach on public space – far outweigh those problems resulting from toleration of the illegality. The Athens town-planning authority has a list of 4,000 illegal structures, annexes, billboards and buildings within the city limits. There are court demolition orders for 2,500 of them, but the owners have done nothing to remove them. Athens Municipality has just finished assigning the first demolition contracts, budgeted at 150,000 euros. Work will not begin before the end of the month, however, partly because City Hall wants to staff the department, but primarily because it wants to inform the owners of the illegal structures that the grace period is over. It may give them a deadline of a few days so that they can remove the illegal annexes or structures themselves. Meanwhile, since it is the first time in many years that such a project has been undertaken, the municipality has set up a multiparty committee to decide, mainly according to social criteria, the order in which buildings are to be demolished. For example, there are two large areas in Athens with many illegal buildings – Papandreika and Kynossargous – but both are densely populated by people in the lower-income brackets. In those cases, the municipality has decided to adopt measures other than demolition. The first structures to go will be those blocking public spaces, such as those in the area behind the site of the former Fix factory in Patissia, where 450 square meters of warehouses have been built, or at Protomayia Square on Petrou Ralli Street, where a nightclub extends across 1,000 square meters of public space. All illegal structures in the parks and gardens of Athens will be demolished. Also marked for demolition are illegal structures that obstruct semi-outdoor areas, such as balconies and terraces. The idea is for the initial phase of the enterprise, which the municipality sees as a pilot project, to acquire expertise, coordination and effective collaboration among jointly responsible municipality services, and to document any difficulties that arise (legal problems, for instance) so that subsequent stages proceed more rapidly and efficiently. The municipality also aims to get the town-planning service functioning better so as to deter further illegal construction and to combat illicit dealings that circumvent the law.