THERE is a rumbling of discontent among local Limassol residents as they see their city skyline transforming from day to day.
Many argue that the new high-rise buildings are unsightly and clutter the landscape, but it seems that the problems are far more serious than that.
The incentives introduced for land development in order to kick-start the Cyprus economy following the catastrophic events of 2013 was taken up by property developers and, coupled with the government’s passport for investment programme for foreign nationals has led to the current ‘boom’ of tall buildings mushrooming along the Limassol coastal road.
The development has been welcomed by the government and political parties who say that, thanks to foreign investors, current and future projects will inject much-needed cash into the local economy.
Greens MP Charalambos Theopemptou believes that carte-blanche development without a strategic housing and development policy will, in the long-run, be problematic, but at the same time gives an objective view to the development of tall buildings in Limassol.
“Usually high-rise development takes place where there is a good public transport network. In Cyprus, with our lack of public transport, the resulting high concentration of individuals in a small area will exasperate the problem of traffic congestion,” said Theopemptou, and consequently, one must assume that pollution levels will rise accordingly.
Another point which Theopemptou makes is that there seems to be a lack of a planning policy.
“There must be a carefully-selected area where these buildings should be built, based on exacting scientific and environmental impact studies,” he added.
Constructing buildings along the beach front has other negative impacts to the quality of life to the people in the immediate vicinity of the tall buildings and to the city in general.
“Having high-rise buildings on the waterfront Island will also mean that properties behind these buildings will lose their market value because the tall buildings will be obstructing their view of the sea.”
He added: “High-rise buildings will also mean a lot of material that will get hot in the summer and will also block the cool air coming from the sea. The effect known as Heat (Island effect should be very carefully considered, because otherwise, it will affect the microclimate of the area. Abroad, this effect is used as the basis of city planning and development.”
The sentiments expressed by Theopemptou are shared by Nigel Howarth, owner and editor of the online news magazine Cyprus Property News.
“Individually, there are some really nice looking buildings, but they do not fit into the setting,” said Howarth, adding “The skyline will be a hotchpotch of buildings.
“There is no planning and the designs take no consideration of the surroundings, while the people living behind these buildings suddenly find their view of the sea obstructed and the subsequent drop in the value of their property,” he added.
Although the tall building ‘boom’ has helped the economy, Howarth doesn’t believe that the properties are going to be bought up, “Who is going to buy all the available units?” he asks, “There hasn’t exactly been a rush of foreign investors snapping up the properties,” he elaborates.
A similar train of thought has been expressed by other professionals in the field who, like Howarth, believe that, even if the units are sold, many will remain empty and eventually fall into disrepair.
“There is no law making it compulsory for foreign nationals taking part in the passport-for-cash scheme to actually live in these properties,” they say.
The Cyprus Architects Association (CAA) supports high-rise development but it believes that it should be more transparent.
“Density is more efficient and ecologically responsible,” said Michalis Kosmas, board member and responsible for planning matters for the CAA.
“We would, however, like the process to be more transparent.”
“It’s one thing having somebody build a house next door to you but quite different if somebody decides to throw up a 40-storey apartment block,” he said.
“Although planning exists, it can be improved and the people must demand to have a more active role as they do abroad.”
Not all doom and gloom
Although problems exist, there are some positives coming out of the introduction of tall buildings.
“The fact that the city develops vertically will mean that water, sewage, electricity and other infrastructure services can be much easier designed and maintained,” added Theopemptou.
Furthermore, he believes that it will be easier to provide public transport while the city does not spread into the country, providing more protection for nature and lastly, he believes that “if the planning permits and policies are carefully designed so that floors are exchanged with land (i.e. we don’t give the building coefficient for free) then we can have better streets and more open spaces and parks”.
It seems that there is a collective agreement that vertical development is good, but a definitive planning strategy is sorely needed.
“Cyprus must move on and develop, but it’s not doing it in the proper way,” said Howarth.