EVEN before they are fully published, the Local Plans, extending the building zones in the major towns, are causing widespread controversy.
What is causing the debate is the provision allowing detached homes to be built outside residential areas on agricultural land on the outskirts of urban centres.
Explaining the finalisation of the plans by the Council of Ministers, Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis told a press conference yesterday that the aim was to ease the housing problem by increasing the supply of building plots.
He noted that the criteria used were social ? particularly aiming at low- and middle-income groups ? environmental and town planning, so as to fit in with infrastructure projects.
But various professional organisations involved in real estate were quick to question the effectiveness of the measure.
Land valuer Antonis Loizou, of the Land Owners’ Association, said that the detached house provision was likely to benefit high rather than low-income people, who could afford to build large houses of up to an area of 400 sq.m.
He also claimed that owners benefiting from the change would not be so eager to sell their land for housing purposes, but speculate on it instead. Speaking from experience, Loizou estimated that only one quarter of housing land thus made available would be released to the real estate market soon enough.
He supported the view that the detached house provision could only be worth something if a taxation of idle resources were introduced, as is the case in France.
Lakis Tofarides, President of the Cyprus Land and Building Developers Association, was more categorical.
“It is a crime,” he told the Cyprus Weekly. “What’s the point of having the Town Planning Council draw a separation between farming and residential land, if the Council of Ministers can come along and erase it?”
He said that, as a matter of principle, their Association was strongly in favour of the building zones being revised, provided this was done in a transparent way at fixed intervals.
“The procedures must be such that the people concerned must know that their property is under review, so that they would not sell agricultural land cheap, only to discover later that it has become residential,” Tofarides said.
He also noted that building isolated houses outside residential areas will eventually spell a financial burden for the economy as a whole, since infrastructure services such as water supply, rubbish collection and eventually sewage projects would have to be extended to cover the new needs.
Tofarides said that the Association would be putting its views in writing to the competent authorities.
The President of the Cyprus Real Estate Agents Association, Dinos Soteriou, highlighted what he sees as another defect of the changes.
Asked for his comments by The Cyprus Weekly, he said that only those who owned land adjacent to roads stood to benefit from the provisions of the new local plans.
He explained that because of the building development regulations, such owners could withhold access to other landlocked owners, in order to boost the value of their property.
He suggested that the best way to overcome this problem was for the local authorities to undertake the development infrastructure in such areas and make the payment of costs conditional on the issue of the building licence when the time came.
“In this way there will be more building plots in the real estate market at more affordable prices, ” Soteriou explained.
The revision and modification of the Local Plans for Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos was published in March 2003 and received 3,269 objections, of which 1,500 concerned the detached house provision, especially in Nicosia, Limassol and Paphos.
It took 43 months to examine the objections and finalise the plans.
Presenting the Council of Ministers decision, Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiots said yesterday that although the land already included in the specified Development Areas covered by the local plans is enough to satisfy the housing needs of the population until 2012, it was decided to extend the boundaries of Residential Zones to match infrastructure projects. Further extension was thought necessary taking into account other local parameters.
According to the revised plans, it is now possible to build up to two private houses in a plot covering an area of 4,000 sq m, whereas the previous 2003 plan allowed for one house only.
The built area of the house is specified at 400 sq m, while for a second house in an 8,000 sq m plot or more, the maximum built area is increased to 600 sq m.
In addition, the construction of a second house is permitted for the needs of a family, with each house not exceeding 250 sq m. In livestock areas, though, the built area must be up to 200 sq m, while in protected areas the maximum built area on any plot must not exceed 240 sq m.
In Nicosia, the extension of the building zone covers areas in Lakatamia to the southwest and Strovolos to the south, while the most important changes affect the communities of Yeri, Tseri and Latsia.
In the particular case of Aglantzia, the Council of Ministers has decided not to include the area adjacent to the University Residences in the extension, with the state buying the properties and offering to compensate the owners.
In Limassol, the communities to be affected by the changes are Pyrgos, Parekklisia, Kato Polemidia, Germosoyia, Agios Athanasios, Pano Polemidia, Ypsonas and Zakaki.
In Larnaka the extension covers Aradippou, Dromolaxia, Meneou and Livadia.
In Paphos the town itself will be affected, Pegia, Kili, Tremithousa, as far as Tala, Kissonerga, Mesogi, Konia, Ayia Marinouda, Echelia, with those in Chloraka, Emba and Mesa Khorio being the most important.
The Local Plans will be published in the Government Gazette and go on the Interior Ministry’s webpage next week.
Sylikiotis said that everybody who feels their interests are negatively affected might challenge the provisions of the Local Plans through the available channels. He stressed, however, that bids for changes should wait until the next revision is due. “We cannot be in constant dialogue,” the Minister said.
By Philippos Stylianou 20th October 2006
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