Forest bill ready for Parliament

An ambitious draft bill that aims to curb illegal construction on forestland by drawing up comprehensive maps delineating the boundaries of the country’s forests is to be submitted in Parliament next week and the first few maps are to be put on public display in September, Environment Minister Tina Birbili said yesterday. The ministry’s priority is to protect eight municipalities in Attica that were hit particularly hard by forest fires last year and in the catastrophic blazes of the summer of 2007, Birbili said. So the first maps that are to be finalized and displayed will be those delineating forestland in the municipalities of Aghios Stefanos, Anthousa, Kifissia, Marathon, Nea Makri, Pendeli, Nea Pendeli and Stamata. According to statistics made public by the ministry yesterday, a total of 29 forest maps drafted in previous pilot programs are ready to be displayed, another 26 drafted as part of the current government’s initiative are also ready and an additional 29 maps that have been drafted over the past few months are currently undergoing correction. «We are hopeful that the first forest maps will be approved during the course of this year,» Birbili said. «The approval, albeit partial, of these maps will constitute a major step because it will safeguard all areas that are not subject to dispute or illegal encroachment,» the minister added. As for properties that have been built illegally on forestland, she suggested that the ministry would try to find a solution, but as a secondary priority. «The demolition of some 300,000 illegally constructed properties in Attica is inconceivable… we will see what we will do with these, but in the third phase.» The first two phases of the ministry’s initiative are the completion of forest maps and their display in public. Landowners and local authorities will have the opportunity to submit their objections regarding the accuracy of forest borders but will be obliged to pay a fee for this right. It remains unclear what the charge would be.

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