A state agency handling urban planning matters recently approved plans by several construction cooperatives to build on land for which they already possess the titles. The decision is seen as part of a government drive to tackle the growing problem of illegal and unregulated construction in the country. The Central Council of Urban Planning, after reviewing law 2508/97 governing reception zones (PERPO) of construction cooperatives, gave its consent for construction on land owned by 29 construction cooperatives in Evia, Magnesia and Preveza. The relevant decisions have been processed and require only a final signature, and are to be followed by reviews of urban-planning studies that have been worked out for the construction cooperatives by officials from the Ministry of the Environment, Town Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE), as well as the Council of State. Final State approval will allow the builders and their companies to build in the above three regions on land covering areas greater than 100 stremmas (10 hectares). Similar studies for defining reception zones and guides for urban planning have also been hammered out for the prefectures of Aitoloakarnania, Argolid, Iraklion, Rodopi and Fthiotida, while the proposals for the prefectures of Hania and Rethymnon are still in the drafting phase. According to YPEHODE, the eight prefectures for which the final PERPO proposals have been compiled are also host to 85 percent of the existing construction cooperatives that possess real estate located outside town plans. Meanwhile, the construction cooperatives for which the Central Council for Urban Planning has approved their proposals for reception zones in each prefecture are: Evia: 21 construction cooperatives, of which 11 have been approved, eight are in the final stage for approval, one has filed an application for residential suitability, and one has filed an application stating its intent. Magnesia: Four construction cooperatives, of which one has been approved, one is in the final stage of approval, and two have filed applications for residential suitability. Preveza: Four construction cooperatives, of which one has been approved and three are in the final stage of approval. According to YPEHODE records, the number of construction cooperatives in the country has reached 300, and ministry officials believe that the way should be cleared for the development of legal cooperatives and for all those who possess permits of residential suitability, and whose land is located away from seashores, archaeological areas and forests. Legality checks Under this framework, the relevant ministries of environment and agriculture will proceed with legality checks of the existing construction cooperatives in the coming months, while the Ministry of Agriculture is expected to finalize an important draft law on land use and the amendment of forest-land law N. 998/79 before the end of November. This is in order to harmonize its procedures with Article 24 of the Constitution after its recent modification. Records released from YPEHODE show that 123 construction cooperatives located outside Attica meet the conditions for construction permits. Of those, 60 have already been approved and their urban planning applications ratified by the ministries, while 39 others are in the final phase of approval – meaning that they have submitted their urban planning studies and their approval is pending before the Council of State, as they lack specific data. Moreover, 17 construction cooperatives have filed applications with YPEHODE for residential suitability, while seven more cooperatives are awaiting approval of their statements of intent. Ministry seeks ‘fine balance’ According to sources from the Agriculture Ministry, its leadership has already begun the process of identifying problems that have arisen from various interpretations of provisions from law N. 998/79 and from relevant rulings by the Council of State. The framework within which a future draft law will be formulated in order to tackle these problems has yet to be shaped, but the same sources indicate that the new law will respect the environment while not going to any extremes. This could be the response of the ministry to the strong protests that greeted the amendment of Article 24 of the Constitution recently, noting that certain provisions were harboring lax protection for forests and forest land, making it vulnerable to alterations for land use. The final version of Article 24, in the form that it was voted in by Parliament, did not include several of the widely debated provisions, but it makes a number of references to the forest-land registry for determining the boundaries of forests and forest land, the compilation of which is expected to be finalized within a decade. The modified article also states that the protection of the forest was everyone’s right (and not just of the State, as it was stated prior to the amending), paving the way for the change of land use in forests that are private.