Sacrificing the coastline for tourist cash

The varied and beautiful Mediterranean landscape is subject to highly varying degrees of protection. – The greatest degree of protection is to be found in France. In the south, any form of intervention in zones of outstanding natural beauty or of social or historical importance is forbidden. These areas remain untouched, a precious legacy for coming generations. – In Spain, matters are more complicated. What is permitted or forbidden varies from area to area, with regional administrations having the main say. Spain has retreated on the fairly strict laws it used to have for the protection of the landscape, and two years ago it redefined planning in the Spanish Constitution to make it more flexible. As a result, Spaniards can now build more or less where they like, provided they have a plot of land at least 0.6 hectares in size. But not all regions have applied the new measure to the same degree. In Catalonia, the regulatory framework is quite strict. The strictest regulations are to be found on the Balearic Islands. The local government (which includes the ecological party) implements strict rules on plot size and construction and is the first area in Europe to have imposed an environmental tax (in place for a year now). Each visitor to the islands must pay a sum of money on top of the price of their ticket, depending on the means of transport used. «Landscape use there has a social dimension which does not exist in Greece as yet. The landscape is absolutely controlled, and every effort is made to preserve it since it forms a profitable cultural capital,» said Hadzimichalis. On the Balearic Islands, building is forbidden not only in protected areas, but also in the so-called accompanying zones lying next to or opposite them. A typical example of the contrary practice in Greece is that of Sounion, where the temple itself is protected but all the surrounding area has been ruined. – In Portugal, the regulatory framework is more elastic than the French one, but basically checks are not carried out, as in Greece. – Greece, southern Italy and Sicily share the identical problems of huge shortcomings in the regulatory framework and an almost complete a bsence of inspection procedures. The area in Sicily examined by the Artemis program is a protected park. Despite this, it contains numerous illegal buildings, bribery of local government officials and inspectors is commonplace, hotels have spread like a rash on the coast, and there is no easy access to the sea. These are familiar sights in Greece. Although Sicily (like the rest of the Mediterranean) has an impeccable land registry (dating from the time of the Habsburgs) which prevents changes in land use, there are loopholes. «For example, only agricultural land use might be allowed in one area, so you can erect sheepfolds, tool warehouses, tractor garages, and then, next to the garage, a little room that becomes bigger, and two years later, the sheepfold has turned into a small hotel,» Hadzimichalis explained.

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