OPINION

Steps to stop illegal construction

A few days ago, the prime minister announced the legalization of buildings without construction permits in exchange for a fee. The relevant authority, Environment Minister Tina Birbili, went on to refute the statement, only to be counter-refuted by Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou. The motivation for Papaconstantinou was no doubt to bring some money into the state coffers, but the fact is that legalizing these structures needs to go hand-in-hand with a permanent solution for the problem.

It is estimated that well over a million constructions in Greece are illegal. This is why distinctions have been made between buildings erected on archaeological sites, on forestland and on beaches, and those that were in violation of building regulations. For this latter category, which comprises the majority of illegal buildings, it is correct that they should be made legal, though not in the ridiculous way that ?imiypaithrioi,? or open spaces in homes that were then enclosed, were sorted out. The legalization of these buildings should obviously carry a fine that reflects the magnitude of the infringement. In extreme cases the fine should also be accompanied by an order to correct more serious problems.

The truth is that the state neither can nor wants to tear these buildings down, and even if it did want to, this would be the wrong way to go, firstly because the buildings have already been bought and paid for, secondly because the cost of demolition would be huge, and thirdly because the debris left behind would pose a grave environmental challenge.

If the state insists on legalizing these buildings without enforcing fines and modifications that will bring them in line with regulations, it will simply encourage more illegal constructions. For the problem to be solved, the legalization drive also needs to be accompanied by the demolition of the few most flagrant violators. Legalizing buildings that are in violation of lesser regulations following the payment of a fine would also help bankroll the demolition of the biggest eyesores. Another step that would have to be taken is drawing up measures for the next phase, under which every new illegal construction would be instantly hit with hefty fines. If the fine is not paid, then the building could be seized by the state and put up for auction.

If this group of measures were to be enforced, together with a shake-up of town planning offices so that they come under the scrutiny of an inspection mechanism, we would eventually see an end to the bane of illegal construction.