Plan to sell off lost land

Public coffers could be boosted to the tune of 1 billion euros if the government goes ahead and allows people who have illegally taken over some 92 percent of land belonging to the state to buy it, sources said yesterday. The Finance Ministry is understood to be considering putting forward a bill to Parliament which would allow anyone who has built or is farming on state-owned land – but does not hold any legal titles to the plots – to officially buy it from the government. The ministry set up a special panel to investigate the matter, which has troubled successive governments. The experts found that of the 97,029 plots of land, totaling 325,000 hectares, which belonged to the state, some 89,288 plots totaling 300,000 hectares were now in the hands of private owners who had not paid a single cent to purchase them. Investigators found that the land was being used for everything from farming to the building of factories, warehouses and apartment blocks. In its report, which has been handed to Deputy Economy and Finance Minister Petros Doukas, the panel suggests that the land should be sold for 310 euros per hectare – substantially below the market rate in most places. If all the people who have encroached on public land take up this offer, the government will receive some 1 billion euros in return. Under normal circumstances, this would be a bonus for any government, but as the ruling conservatives are looking to reduce the public deficit, it would be a significant boost. Over the last 10 years, the ministry has repeatedly tried to reclaim state land through eviction orders and by demanding compensation and demolishing buildings, but so far not one court ruling has gone in its favor. The Finance Ministry has also received legal advice which said that in cases where public land had been taken over in a settlement that has planning permission or has less than 2,000 citizens, the law would not favor the state if it tried to regain ownership. Sources indicate that the Finance Ministry is likely to mold the proposals it has received into a draft bill, which it will put before Parliament early next year. If passed, the law will only apply to people who have been living or working on the same piece of state land continuously since before 1994. Another committee is studying the ownership of coastal land and is due to deliver a report by the end of the month.