“It’s legal, but is it right?” wondered Environment Commissioner Klelia Vasiliou following yesterday’s meeting of the House Environment Committee that heard statements from competent public authorities on the legality of their decisions to grant the necessary permits for the planned restaurant on Paphos’ Sodap beach to go ahead.
The issue emerged when organised groups accused Paphos Municipality of illegal development in a protected zone at Sodap beach.
Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos defended the Municipality’s actions saying that all necessary permits were obtained before starting construction.
Phedonos cited the sequence of events starting in 2015, when an illegal cantine on Sodap beach was demolished and a year later the Municipality suggested the building of a small cafe on the same beach and the leasing of a parking lot for its needs.
In October 2017, he continued, the Council of Ministers decided to lease state land to Paphos Municipality to build the cafe and repurpose its surrounding area.
A planning permit was granted in October 2019 and the following month the Ministerial Committee decided to relax the provisions of the Law of the Protection of the Beach.
On December 4, 2019, the Deputy Ministry of Tourism approved of the architectural plans for the cafe-restaurant under certain conditions. Two days later the Environmental Authority submitted its recommendations that were followed, and a construction permit was issued on December 12, 2019. The project has since been assigned to a construction company at the cost of €771,120.
Phedonos described opinions against the project as ‘excessive’ adding that when the project is finished people will realise that it constitutes a landmark for the city.
“When we decided to do this, we took into account recommendations by locals and foreign visitors who raised the need of a cafe-restaurant to service the thousands who visit Sodap beach,” he said.
The head of the Environment Department Costas Hadjipanayiotou pointed out that his department was called to give an opinion at the very last stages of the approval process, only after a building permit was obtained, and was therefore only able to recommend administrative measures to limit the environmental impact from the construction and the operation of the development.
Speaking for the Planning Department, Markella Hadjida backed the legality of the procedure, adding that the decision to relax the relevant law was taken by the Ministerial Committee and will be revoked if terms and conditions attached to the permit are not followed.
Pictured: A digital representation of the planned restaurant by Psomas Architects.
The president of the House Environment Committee Adamos Adamou said that responsibility for allowing construction on the beach falls mostly on the competent authorities that made it possible.
Greens leader George Perdikis suggested the termination of construction works by the Municipality.
Commissioner for the Environment Klelia Vasiliou said that the Planning Department should not make decisions that strip other authorities of the opportunity to issue their own opinion.
A spokesperson for environmental NGO Terra Cypria spoke of Cyprus’ failure to ratify the Barcelona protocol on the protection of the Mediterranean coastal region in order to prohibit developments closer than 100 metres from the beach.
The fact that the Barcelona protocol has not been ratified does not mean it should not be respected by competent authorities, Vasiliou noted.
“Paphos Municipality is acting legally, but from an ethical point of view, one should not utilise the power in their hands to intervene in a protected beach area,” she said.
Speaking for the Federation of Environmental Organisations, Andreas Evlavis described the plans as an ‘environmental crime’. He was echoed by the Paphos Active Citizens Initiative who said that the Municipality found loopholes to serve its own interests.
George Eliades of the Cyprus Ecological Movement warned of a ‘major ecological disaster’ from the development which will have a negative impact on climate change.
Having heard all opinions, the House Committee on the Environment decided to prepare a report recording its opinion.