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A Famagusta planning-zone revolt?

By Antonis Loizou

The Famagusta region, especially the coastal areas (Paralimni-Ayia Napa-Sotira) seem to have been left behind in terms of planning zones and densities adopted. The region that attracts the most tourists (local and foreign) does not have demanding municipalities to promote the region’s interest, whereas the technocrats in the government must think: ‘they are villagers, what do they know?’

The prevailing building density adopted for near-the-beach housing is now 20%, (it used to be 40%), and for hotels, from the originally 70%, now down to 40%. Yet for other coastal regions, building density can reach over 400% – seen particularly in Limassol, with its new generation of high tower blocks having made all the difference. Limassol’s progress has not been by chance, but due rather to Limassolians cooperating with the local municipality, together with local chambers and other organisations, for the benefit of their city.

And as building density increases, so development is encouraged: the recent incentives for a 20% density increase for Famagusta-region hotels have caused additional coastal hotel projects to come into the market (providing approximately 2,000 beds) and older buildings to be renovated, with numerous tourist project extensions under way.
Nevertheless, the Famagusta region has been left behind compared to other regions and, in addition to its incomprehensibly low densities, its development land has no access for approximately 50% of the total extent, frustrating demand and new projects. Yet, “hey presto!”: like Houdini the escape artist, suddenly a 30-storey tower block has been – quite rightly – allowed for Ayia Napa marina… What about the other developments?

The region will soon show increasing demand and development over the immediate future, given that it has the best beaches, because of the supporting Nicosia tourists and due to the lower property prices, compared with Limassol. In the Famagusta region, villas to let are top of the Cyprus-wide market, with an average occupancy rate of around 60%, and returns (based on value) of around 5% p.a., after deducting costs.

We are, thus, encouraging local municipalities to declare some sort of a ‘velvet revolution’, so as to be treated like the other beach areas/towns.

New local councils (such as that led, for example, by the present mayor of Ayia Napa) appear quite imaginative and progressive, yet face red tape imposed by environment department government workers. The recent proposal by Ayia Napa municipality regarding its coastal development (a long walkway near the beach, the construction of piers, etc.), was turned down to an extent. We have read the summary of the objection and couldn’t believe it: migrating birds and upsetting the seabed being among the reasons. So? What about Limassol, Paphos, etc.? How about the expected casino, set in the middle of migrating falcons? Should we do without?

In our opinion, our primary consideration should be the well-being of the 30,000 – Eurostat says 60,000 – unemployed and the economic future of this island. We have nothing else other than sun and sea and, as the Troika has suggested, tourism is what we should target. It is inevitable that any development will upset the environment, but what is the alternative? Not building airports, marinas, houses, motorways, etc. because it upsets the environment?

How would these civil servants feel if they were unemployed? Whereas the director of the environment department, with a hefty salary and a lot of benefits, has no problem reporting the government for any wrongdoing over such issues…

We encourage the local municipalities to press the government to have a local/Famagusta development in line with others. The Sotira beach region had met a similar ‘no’ by the same environmental department, was duly ignored by the municipality and now Sotira has its own 5-star hotel (and spa) under development. These and other developments are set to create a shortage of hotel staff, with tourist-catering professionals now coming back in demand, to the extent that over 2017-18 there will be a shortage.

A few years ago, Paralimni municipality had employed an internationally-known town planner who had suggested (15 years ago) that the region should have high-rise buildings/hotels, with large open spaces around. The then director of town planning said to us “we dropped the project, as we did not agree that Cyprus should become like Miami”. What is wrong with Miami, dear readers?

See Limassol now, to ascertain what a huge mistake was made for Famagusta. Other successful developments that went ahead, ignoring environmental department objections, include:

  • Serena Bay – once clogged with rubbish and snakes, was duly cleaned and turned into a sandy beach.
  • Ayia Thekla – a beach-front site with a church to go, and now a most attractive project, bringing around €200,000 p.a. to the Sotira Municipality and delighting bathers, whereas the church is in great local and foreign demand for weddings and functions.
  • The Ayia Napa cactus and sculpture park – once barren, now an attraction.

These and other examples illustrate the misguided attitudes by some civil servants, which would otherwise leave the rest of us to face the consequences. We believe we need a law change for the prevailing procedure, as the people who manage the department of environment are taking a wrong approach.

Antonis Loizou & Associates LTD Property Values & Property Consultants

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