Eastern Attica is turning into concrete jungle

Thousands of hectares of land that fall within the town limits of the municipalities of Eastern Attica have fallen victim to rampant illegal building due to the lack of planning surveys that would set the limits and preconditions for legal building. Some areas have remained without a planning survey for over 15 years. Since cases may date from way back, no one is in a position to determine with any precision the exact number of hectares that have been incorporated into town plans, and for which surveys are under way. The only thing that can be stated with any certainty – and was, by the prefecture of Eastern Attica to Kathimerini – is that for the 2,000 hectares of land that has been incorporated into town plans, planning surveys have not even been assigned. Both these surveys and others that have been started require about 60 million euros to complete. At the present rate, it may take decades to carry out the surveys, resulting in two and three new generations of illegal buildings. In many of the districts of Eastern Attica included in town plans, and for which the surveys are still in progress, illegal buildings are mushrooming. By the time the surveys are completed, planners and authorities will be faced with a fait accompli and be unable to implement the surveys in any case. Eastern Attica is home to one-third of the total number of illegal buildings throughout Greece. While the problem of illegal building is ongoing, legislation brought in by former Planning and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou, which provided for the temporary supply of electricity to illegal buildings (under certain conditions) as a first step to legalizing them, has prompted 80 percent of the owners to submit applications to have their (illegal) buildings connected to the grid. Around 40,000 owners have done so, according to statistics from the prefecture of Eastern Attica and local municipalities. However, less than 10,000 applications were approved, while only 20 percent of illegal buildings that met conditions have been supplied with electricity. To aggravate matters, one piece of legislation characterizes large expanses as agricultural land while other legislation has excluded farmers in the area from the incentives provided by European programs. As a result, in Eastern Attica, some 5,000 hectares defined as arable land is being sold off and built on illegally. «The policies of the last few decades,» Eastern Attica Prefect L. Kouris told Kathimerini, «have not only not curbed illegal building, they have in fact made matters worse. To tackle the problem at its roots, radical solutions are needed. Land that has been surveyed and planned should be handed over as quickly as possible for the construction of legal dwellings, whether chief residences or second homes.» Basic steps to this end, said the prefect, would be to keep to deadlines and simplify the labyrinthian bureaucratic processes required in order to complete the plan. Funding for planning surveys could be provided by European programs. Money collected from owners of illegal buildings through various pieces of legislation could be deposited in a special account and be used exclusively for infrastructure and improvement works.