Committee for immediate demolitions

A three-member committee has been given special powers by the regional government, with the cooperation of the forestry service, to protect the forested areas destroyed in the August wildfires from land-grabbers. An amendment to be tabled in Parliament shortly by the Environment and Public Works Ministry, perhaps with a few small changes, is to be included in a bill to ratify the contract for the Northwest Peloponnese Highway (Corinth-Patras-Pyrgos-Tsakonas). The bill was tabled before the elections and is expected to be debated within the next month. According to sources in the ministry’s legal service, and to statements by the minister, Giorgos Souflias, the amendment confirms a ban on the construction of any type of building in areas slated for reforestation after being destroyed by fires. The committee members, recruited from the regional authorities, will have the task of looking for illegally constructed buildings and issuing a «demolition protocol,» with the details of the structure, and informing the perpetrators. According to the amendment, the committee is to act on the protocol «forthwith, irrespective of the stage that construction has reached, and does not provide for any appeal aimed at halting the demolition.» The owner of the building has a constitutional right to take recourse to administrative courts against the state. If vindicated, he or she is to receive compensation for the building that has been demolished. The committee is required to give full assistance to the police and other authorities, such as local government in enacting the protocol, mostly by making manpower and equipment available for the purpose. Where necessary, this can be achieved with the help of the private sector and legal channels, who will nevertheless be answerable to the committee. According to sources, the idea behind the amendment is based on provisions in a presidential decree of 1929 on the procedures for demolishing «dangerous structures.» The amendment will not cancel out previous provisions regarding illegal structures in forests. For example, engineers, contractors and other staff involved in the construction of such buildings will be penalized with prison sentences of at least one year and fines ranging from 1,500 to 14,500 euros. The same applies to construction workers on the site and anyone who helps them. The same penalties apply to anyone expropriating forestland for other uses, such as farming, or for harming it in any way. The decision regarding the immediate demolition of buildings on burnt forestland was first announced on July 9 after a meeting between Souflias and the minister for agricultural development, but originally applied only to areas destroyed by fire in the Mt Parnitha National Park. After mounting public pressure following fires in Evia and the Peloponnese, Souflias recommended the extension of the amendment to cover all areas scheduled for reforestation after the fires. «As soon as illegal work is found to have begun… it will be stopped,» said Souflias. «If construction has already begun, the decision to demolish will be immediately issued and demolition will begin in accordance with the law on dangerous structures, where no delays are permitted.»