NEWS

Forest law change is divisive

The government said yesterday that a proposal to change the law regarding land classified as forest area will help protect remaining woodlands, while opponents criticized the measure, saying it is designed to serve the interests of developers. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos stressed the government’s sensitivity on environmental issues and said that the planned revision will help put an end to illegal building activity. «We are suggesting that we use aerial photos from 1975. This will help us solve many problems, protect the remaining forests and strengthen the country’s forest policy,» he said. The proposal suggests that all forest areas across the country be reclassified depending on aerial photos taken in 1975. Roussopoulos added that in cases where land has been used for farming purposes in the last 50 to 60 years, then the forest classification will be removed. The government argues that this will help ensure a more efficient and realistic classification of property. Opponents to the plan claim that the changes will open the way for construction cooperatives to build on forest areas that are protected by the law. Developers said earlier this week that, due to legal restrictions, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, has stopped them from building on 10,000 hectares of forestland they claim to have legitimately bought from the state some 40 years ago. Sources said that the conservative government’s current proposal will mean that 10,000 hectares in the mountainous area of Pendeli, northern Athens, will lose its protected status and will be open for construction. PASOK leader George Papandreou said that his party will vote against the proposal and pointed to business interests as being behind the possible law change. PASOK officials also pointed to a previous revision of the relevant law in 2001 which they say helped to protect forest areas.