INTERIOR Minister Constantinos Petrides pledged on Thursday that Cyprus would not be turned into Manhattan during House discussions on his ministry’s budget when the topic turned to skyscrapers, and migration.
The budget for 2020 provides for expenditures of €569m. Petrides spoke of the cost of asylum seekers to the state, reiterating some comments he made on Tuesday, and stressed that “throwing money at the problem” would not solve it.
On the construction sector, he defended it against criticism that it was overheating the economy, driving up rents, as a result of the controversial citizenship-by-investment scheme.
The conversation turned to the high-rises cropping up across the island, particularly in Limassol and Nicosia.
To date, Petrides said, only 20 buildings of more than 20 storeys have been issued permits.
Nor are fears of rising residential density warranted. In areas where the building coefficient is normally set at 60 to 70 per cent, the coefficient is reduced to 30 per cent when it comes to high-rises.
In addition, criteria are in place to ensure that green spaces and public-use spaces are created around skyscrapers.
Chiming in, town planning director Kyriacos Koundouros said authorities are meantime taking steps to keep to a minimum environmental pollution from skyscrapers, which often straddle the seafront and could affect marine life.
He said environmental studies were completed last month concerning the seafronts in Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos. The documents were handed over to the Department of the Environment and will be used as guidelines to assess environmental impacts on a case-by-case basis.
Koundouros also rejected claims that the citizenship-by-investment programme might lead to fiscal derailment.
Public finances are burdened whenever expenditures occur, he explained. But in the case of the citizenship-by-investment scheme, there are no state expenditures; to the contrary, revenues are being generated.
One beneficiary is the Land Development Corporation.
Back in February, and following criticism from overseas, the government introduced a series of changes to the citizenship-by-investment scheme, in a stated bid to make it more credible.
The tweaks included a €75,000 contribution from the proceeds to research and development and an equal amount to the Land Development Corporation (KOAG) to fund affordable housing schemes.
The funds are diverted to KOAG once an application for Cypriot citizenship is approved.
Reiterating his stance on migration during that part of the discussion, Petrides said the influx of asylum seekers and migrants into Cyprus will continue unabated in coming years, requiring ever more welfare spending, but throwing money at the problem alone won’t solve it.
“When it comes to migrant flows, solidarity [from the EU] should go beyond funds,” the minister told MPs.
The comments came after another 28 migrants entered Cyprus on Thursday.
“Neither the housing market, nor the labour market, nor society can cope with these increased inflows,” Petrides said. “There is a need to amend the Dublin Regulation so that, at the very least, the management of migrants may be distributed across the European Union, rather than being restricted to first-line countries like Cyprus, Greece or Malta.”
Petrides has asked for the resettlement of some 5,000 migrants to the European continent.
Cyprus has taken in 15,000 asylum seekers, of whom 10,000 have been granted refugee status.
The minister pointed out that in 11 EU countries, migrants account for less than 0.1 per cent of the local populations; but in Cyprus migrants comprise 3 per cent, perhaps as many as 3.5 per cent.
“In the past, when Cyprus was not subject to migrant flows, we had agreed to a distribution from Italy of some asylum seekers from Africa.
“Cyprus is now the only first-line country where no such redistribution has occurred. We are not asking, we are demanding that the EU show its solidarity to us.”