The implementation of an Agreement, signed between the Republic of Cyprus and the United Kingdom nearly four years ago, to regulate land development within the British Bases has entered its final stages.
The Agreement allows a large part of the Bases area to be included in the town planning zones, so they can be developed. Specifically, 78% of the BB territory, around 200 square kilometres, that includes private properties, will fall under the regulation.
A total of three municipalities and sixteen communities in the districts of Limassol, Larnaca and Famagusta will benefit from this Agreement providing for the lifting of restrictions on the development of privately owned property by locals within the nonmilitary areas of the Akrotiri and Dhekelia bases.
The historic Agreement was signed on 15 January 2014 by the Foreign Minister of Cyprus Ioannis Kasoulides and Foreign Secretary of the UK William Hague during an official visit paid by the President of the Republic Nicos Anastasiades to London.
“The agreement also brings a fresh air of optimism for the residents of the British Bases and those who have property in the Bases since it opens up great economic prospects for development and activity”, President Anastasiades stressed in a written statement issued then.
Following the signing of the Agreement, intensive consultations were undertaken between the competent authorities of Cyprus and the British Bases with the aim to prepare and adopt the Planning Policy. To this end, a committee was set up consisting of representatives of the Department of Town Planning and Housing as the coordinating body, District officers, the Union of Municipalities and Communities, the Ministries of Communications and Works and Agriculture and representatives of the Administration of the British Bases.
The process of preparing the Planning Policy, which proved to be very demanding and time-consuming, has gone through various stages and has now reached the stage of assessing the environmental impact on the basis of the agreed Preliminary Planning Policy, prepared after taking into account the concerns and suggestions of the local communities as expressed during open meetings and gatherings that have taken place.
The Environmental Impact Assessment is the sixth out of eight stages of the first phase of the preparation of the Policy. At the next stage, the Department of Town Planning and Housing along with the Administration of the Bases will prepare the final text of the Planning Policy which will be submitted to the Commander of the Bases for final approval. The eighth and final stage foresees the publication of the Policy in the Official Gazette of the Bases and the Republic.
The second phase relates to the period of appeals, during which any interested party can, within four months from the date of publication of the Policy, submit a written appeal to the Governor of the Bases. The appeals will be examined by the Governor in cooperation with the Department of Town Planning and Housing. The Governor has the final say as to whether or not it should be modified. The final Policy will be published in the Official Gazette of the Bases and the Republic and can be revised every 5 years.
A competent source that closely follows the whole procedure has told CNA that “all the procedures were followed, consultations were held, and legal issues raised due to the region`s status have been addressed and now we have reached the completion of the Local Plan of the region, expected to be published by the end of 2017”.
The same source noted that the President of the Republic shows special interest and asks to be kept up to date on the progress of the implementation of the Agreement.
The Head of the Environmental Impact Assessment and Sustainable Development Division of the Environment Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irene Constantinou has told CNA that the Department of Town Planning and Housing has assigned I.A.C.O. Environmental & Water Consultants Ltd company to prepare the study for the assessment of the Impact on the Environment from the Planning Policy.
Constantinou noted that the Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment, as it is called, should be submitted to the Department of the Environment by October and the Department will post it on its website and invite all interested parties to a public consultation.
She said that the views and proposals to be submitted during the public consultation and the comments of the 10-member competent committee advising the environmental authority in accordance with the relevant legislation will be taken into account during the assessment procedure by the Department of the Environment for its final report/approval.
Speaking to CNA, Mayor of Ipsonas Pantelis Georgiou, who represented the Union of Municipalities in the Commission which undertook the preparation of the Planning Policy, said that the Municipality has welcomed this Agreement since the very beginning, noting however that the publication of the Planning Policy has already been delayed.
He said that landowners have been asking to be informed about the time of the publication of the Policy, noting that British Bases do not disclose much information about this.
According to the Mayor, the British do not want anything more than residential development and some light industrial zones, adding that when asked about tourist development in Limassol area, given that a casino will be built, the answer from the Bases is negative.
He said they get the same negative answer when they ask to establish higher education units. He also said that the Policy has to be consistent with the one in force in the Republic of Cyprus.
Georgiou said that the problem arises from the fact that the final decision on what will be allowed and what will not be allowed lies in the hands of the Governor of the Bases and expressed concern that this may result in unequal treatment between landowners in the Republic of Cyprus and those living in the British Bases area.
He warned that if this is going to be the case, then measures and actions will be taken to rectify this injustice.
On his part, the Mayor of Deryneia, Andros Karayannis said that the municipality expressed its reservations at the very beginning whether the British military authorities would allow any development near the area of St. Nicholas, Strovilia which lies in the municipal limits of Deryneia.
He told CNA that despite the efforts made by the competent government bodies “unfortunately, we are constantly stumbling against efforts by the representatives of the British Bases in Dhekelia-Agios Nikolaos bases to protect their military installations by insisting on issues of security and environmental protection who always adopt a negative attitude. ”
The Executive Secretary of the Union of Cyprus Communities Panayiotis Damianou told the CNA that it is important that the development in these areas follows the pattern of development that exists in the Republic of Cyprus with regard to the issuance of planning and building permits.
Damianou pointed out that it is not clear how the applications for planning permission by derogation will be dealt with, noting that this should be clarified.
President of the Council for Registration of Real Estate Agents and President of the Cyprus Association of Estate Agent Entrepreneurs Marinos Kineyirou said these properties within the boundaries of the British Bases, irrespective of their exact location, have been underestimated and blocked in a way and are considered to be second-class areas.
The Agreement aims to change this unfair situation for the owners of these properties so that they can use their property in the same way as landowners in the rest of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus. To achieve this, the current restrictions on the development of these properties since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960 need to be lifted, he said.
He also expressed his reservation as to whether the Agreement would be implemented at the end of the day, explaining that the British seem to link the implementation of the Agreement with the solution of the Cyprus problem.
CNA has also sought a comment from the UK High Commission in Nicosia, regarding the progress in the implementation of the Agreement but has so far received no response.
The Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri, on the southwest coast, and Dhekelia on the east side of the island are British overseas territory. The areas, which include British military bases and installations, as well as other sites, were retained by the British under the 1960 treaties which established the Republic of Cyprus.