A watered-down national zoning plan

The government’s bill on the country’s first national zoning plan, released last week – the only effort made in this direction for a number of years, falls short of addressing some of the most serious problems, according to the many experts involved in drafting the original proposal. They say that the work of drafting the zoning law that sets out the government’s policy for developing the country over the next 15 years does not confront the problem of the almost unrestricted construction in areas outside town plans, something that is inconceivable in most Northern European countries. Nor does it deal with the problem of the continuing spread of major urban conglomerations or illegal construction, they say. Troublesome The initial proposal was the result of efforts by about 40 experts from various fields, and was submitted to the Environment and Public Works Ministry where it was subsequently divested of any «troublesome» amendments or innovative approaches. Architect and town planner Rania Kloutsinioti, a member of the team of experts who drafted the proposal, criticized the ministry’s decision that it was presently not considered appropriate for a gradual restriction and even abolition of construction outside town plans, something which she said is a condition for «protecting the Greek landscape and our natural and cultural environment.» She added that no provisions for reorganizing construction regulations on the islands have been included in the final draft. The designers of the plan had mentioned the need to wean the islands off dependency on Athens and Thessaloniki and to organize the Aegean archipelago as an autonomous unit with four centers – Iraklion on Crete, Ermoupolis on Syros, Rhodes and Mytilene. The original plan provided for new roles for the towns, new suggestions for transport routes and other measures that were done away with in their entirety in the final bill. According to Yiannis Alavanos, the president of the Technical Chamber of Greece, land policy in this country always turns out to be the result of «a tough battle with economic, social, political and regional interests.» The ministry’s most important alteration to the experts’ proposals was to remove every change to the rules on construction in areas outside town plans. The original draft provided for an immediate ban on all deviations from the rules, an increase in the minimum size of plots on which construction is allowed, a gradual ban on construction around archaeological sites or within Natura areas and tax incentives for the transfer of industry to special zones, among other things. By banning deviations from the rules, there would have been an immediate restriction on the main loophole that allows for the division of properties outside town plans, in some cases down to 750 square meters. It would also have restricted construction in areas where the law already provides for strict limitations. The Cyclades Meanwhile, increasing the minimum area on which construction is allowed would be, according to prominent town planners, the only way to save the Cyclades from being inundated by construction. The ministry’s plan for curbing the unrestricted spread of urban conglomerations and overconstruction on the islands and coasts goes no further than the use of existing mechanisms, such as zones of housing restriction and speeding up the inclusion of new areas in town plans. In other words, by using measures that have already shown themselves to be ineffective or by legalizing settlements that have been built upon over the years in violation of the law. Given the direct relationship between construction outside town plans and illegal construction, the removal of any provision for restricting or banning the phenomenon means the current situation will be allowed to continue unhindered. This kind of construction, which was instituted in 1923, is almost unknown in many Northern European countries. In Germany, for example, building outside city limits requires a permit from the local municipality, which is granted only in exceptional circumstances. The only exception made in that country since the 1970s has been to allow the construction of farmhouses that, however, must be attached to a large area of land that is actually farmed or used for livestock breeding. Athanassios Aravantinos, an architect-town planner and professor emeritus at the National Technical University, said that although the bill called for a greater discrimination between what constitutes towns and the countryside, it also «sped up procedures for including new areas in town plans, even in places where there has been no population increase and where there is already an abundance of available buildings.» Aravantinos added, however, that any plan was better than no plan at all.

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