Outrage in Greece over secret plan to develop land in region ravaged by fires

The Greek government is facing a major embarrassment within days of its re-election after it gave property developers the green light to build on an environmentally sensitive area next to forests ravaged by this summer's deadly fires.

Documents leaked to the Greek press show the finance ministry pushed through an agreement allowing building activity to begin in a protected area in the Southern Peloponnese, the region hardest hit by last month's blazes that killed 67 people and destroyed nearly half a million acres of forest and farmland.

Under heavy criticism for their handling of the inferno, the ruling conservatives blamed the inferno on unscrupulous property developers looking to exploit protected areas. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis vowed to avoid past mistakes where building permits were handed out in fire-affected areas and land was rezoned for construction.

The agreement, revealed this week, covers a valuable coastal zone in Zaharo, the area that accounted for nearly half of the deaths during last month's "national emergency".

The zone includes a rare pine forest, thermal springs, and a nesting area for the endangered loggerhead turtle Caretta-Caretta. Environmental groups say the agreement could come at a huge cost for the area's sensitive ecosystem. The district is protected by the European Union's Natura 2000 scheme, designed to safeguard the most seriously threatened habitats and species.

Greek MEP Dimitris Papadimoulis said the plans could also endanger ¿600m (£410m) in EU funding for fire-stricken areas. "What happened is a crime against nature, committed in order to buy last minute votes prior to the elections," he said.

Mr Papadimoulis has already raised the issue with Athens and Brussels.

"I put a question forward to see whether it violates EU legislation but also whether it could threaten the receipt of EU funding for the fire-stricken areas."

The Greek government has yet to respond.

Dimitris Karavellas, director of WWF Greece, said the continued absence of a proper land registry was at the root of the present crisis. "We are the only country in the EU that doesn't have a land registry," he said. "We get situations where there are forest fires one year and nothing but houses a couple of years later."

The Zaharo deal, if confirmed, would take place in two stages. Firstly, it would legalise nearly 800 buildings that have been illegally constructed in the area over the past 50 years. In the second stage it would permit the construction of hotels, restaurants and recreational facilities. Developers would be allowed to use the land for up to 69 years.

Zaharo's mayor, Pandazis Chronopoulos, who signed the agreement with the finance ministry's Public Real Estate Corporation, says that, if it became law, the agreement would generate much needed money for the reconstruction of the fire-ravaged area. "It would help the redevelopment of the area. We need to recreate a tourism infrastructure. We will fully respect the environment. We are thinking of small-scale tourism development. Maybe a children's camp to start with. And all the money the municipality would get will be reinvested in rebuilding Zaharo".

According to the agreement 75 per cent of the income generated would go to the municipality, the remaining 25 to the finance ministry.

Local engineer Kostas Tzamaloukas, said the people are still numb from the catastrophe "At the polling station on Sunday, one third of the people who were in the queue were wearing black, a sign they had lost a loved one in the fires. This is a small community, people are devastated. They would listen to anyone promising them a way out of the financial disaster."

The ruling New Democracy party held on to power this weekend with a reduced majority.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

SAP BW BO

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried