Putting up houses in a streambed, and legally

Streams that have been blocked with rubble or built upon inevitably lead to floods and damage. Yet that doesn’t seem to faze property owners who decide to build in streambeds, nor stop state officials from issuing them with building permits. Rodopoli stream at Nea Aiolida in Pendeli has not been demarcated, despite the fact that it has been included in the town plan, and it has gradually been built up over the course of 20 years. The authorities concerned say they only bear responsibility for the paperwork. The fact that a streambed is being built over apparently worries nobody except the Ombudsman, whose request for an explanation has been ignored. The greater part of the Rodopoli stream is in an area that has been part of the city plan for decades. In fact, the stream itself was included in the town plan, which means that building on it is legal. In those days, explains an employee at an office connected with issuing permits, «protecting streams was seen as a minor matter that nobody took into consideration.» So permits were issued, and houses – and even apartment blocks – were built along the stream. Every attempt by local residents to set limits on construction in the stream met with official indifference. Twenty years since the first permits were issued, and despite the admonitions of the Ombudsman, the Kapandriti town-planning office has not demarcated the stream. Meanwhile, the prefecture, which is responsible for policing the stream, legalizes houses whenever a problem arises. For example, two permits were issued in 1993, even though the surveyor’s plan submitted by the owners did not indicate the existence of a stream. The permits were recalled in 1997 and the buildings, which were not complete, were deemed illegal and listed for demolition. But in December 2003 – just before the elections – the Attica Prefecture legalized the buildings, permitting work to continue. A report by the Ombudsman mentions two more permits for the Rodopoli stream area. The first of these is not particularly problematic, the Ombudsman notes, except that no environmental effects study was issued relating to the construction of storm drains, given that it is a building in a streambed and rain water has to go somewhere. The second permit is problematic, says the report, «as the plan submitted does not show the stream.» Asked by the Ombudsman why it issued the permit when there was a significant omission, the Kapandriti town-planning office replied that «the building permit was issued on the basis of the accompanying surveyor’s plan, for the accuracy of which the engineer who drafted it and the homeowner are responsible.» In short, you can get a permit to build anywhere since you can declare whatever you want. As the Ombudsman notes: «The recording of streams on town plans allows the competent authorities to compare them to the site of the building under construction,» and thus to check that the proprietor is telling the truth. He notes that «the problem is created by the inclusion of the stream in the town plan without being taken into account in planning, with the result that they are destroyed or, at best, drains are planned.» In 2003 the Ombudsman’s report called for an amendment of the town plan so that stream beds cannot be built on, but he received no response from the authorities concerned. And yet both experts and legislation in Greece and abroad clearly stipulate that streams should be unencumbered to function as natural drains, for the good of all.