NEWS

New bill to protect forests

A new draft bill heralded yesterday by Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili suspends all construction activity on burned forestland in Attica and other parts of the country until authorities draw up comprehensive forest maps. The bill, is due to be submitted to Parliament next week, also foresees the creation of a special state agency to undertake the demolition of illegally built homes on burned forestland as well as the imposition of stiff fines on offenders. Essentially the bill proposes the abolition of a reform introduced in 2003 by former Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys, under PASOK’s previous administration, which dictated that at least a quarter of a given piece of land had to be covered by forest for it to be considered forestland and merit protection. Birbili’s bill seeks to reinstate the status quo which existed prior to Drys’s intervention, when only 15 percent of a piece of land needed to be covered in forest for it be characterized as forestland. The new bill foresees the suspension of all construction in areas of Attica and another 18 municipalities and communities affected by forest fires. There will be a ban imposed on the issuing of all construction licenses with the exception of repairs to homes and public buildings destroyed in fires. A bold provision in Birbili’s proposed reform is the creation of a demolition agency that would be overseen by the new ministry’s environmental inspectors and would have the responsibility of locating and knocking down buildings illegally set up on burned forestland. The work of the demolition agency is to be backed by the Hellenic Mapping and Cadastral Organization (HEMCO), set up in 1986 under the now defunct Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works Ministry. According to sources, within the next two months, HEMCO is due to start operating a sophisticated system of monitoring forestland on the outskirts of Attica with the aim of reporting back to authorities the appearance of every new structure outside the town plan.