State determined to speed up golf course construction

EAGER to boost a weakened construction sector, the state is trying to speed up the process of issuing licences for golf courses and the housing projects that accompany them.

The details of this ‘speed-up plan’ are currently before the Minister of Commerce Antonis Pashalides, ahead of a decision by the Council of Ministers. For conservationists, however, this plan is highly irresponsible both because of the current water crisis and the negative impact on the environment.

“The original requirement was that golf courses would use water from desalination plants that get their electricity from renewable sources of energy,” said George Perdikis, Green Party MP. “Now they are relaxing this requirement, asking only that they purchase water from desalination units using EAC electricity, but pay a higher price – the price it would cost if the energy came from renewable sources. In essence, they will just pay for the water at higher rates.”

The Greens’ alarm was heightened by the discovery that the state had allowed an existing golf course in Paphos to start constructing its own desalination plant on the banks of Ha Potami, in a beach protection zone, and destroying part of a eucalyptus forest in the process.

“Although the authorities have tracked down the illegal activities of the forest’s destruction, they are not intervening, so as not to affect the ‘holy cow’ of golf courses and villas,” the Greens said in a statement.

The desalination plant at Ha Potami was allowed a licence without first presenting the usual environmental impact assessment. The state allowed this exception under a legal exception for small desalination plants, originally only intended for beachfront hotels. The ‘hotel desalination’ option was later abandoned, but the decision has apparently been applied to golf courses instead.

The desalination unit at Ha Potami will give water to a nearby existing golf course that previously got its water supply from the Asprokremmos Dam. “Now the dam has dried up, they are building this desalination unit to supply the golf course,” Perdikes said.

“We are warning that whatever is being destroyed today in the name of facing the economic crisis will be forever lost and future generations will not have it.”

From the outset, the state was offering an attractive incentive package to businessmen interested in developing golf courses, based on the belief that golf courses are not financially viable on their own, and must be complemented by luxury residential areas. Developers can freely build these complexes as the state incentive package provides considerable town planning relaxations. These incentives are even more attractive now the construction sector is struggling.

However, environmental groups fear that companies will take advantage of these incentives to build the luxury villas first and then abandon the golf courses. Naturally, for the environmentalists the lack of the golf course is not the problem. Their concern is that these licences allow residential development in areas where they would otherwise not have been allowed.

“We believe the incentives offered to businessmen for the creation of golf courses are many and there is a danger that after taking advantage of these incentives, businessmen will abandon them,” said a statement from the environmental group, Terra Cypria. “Our worry is intensified by the fact that the fine of £1 million that would have been imposed in abandoning [the golf course] was finally not adopted. We believe that the incentives plan offered by the state should be re-examined and adjusted based on public interest considerations and not serving private interests.”

Some of the environmental problems associated with golf courses include: their intensive consumption of water, pollution to the soil, as well as to the surface and ground water reserves, loss of biodiversity, habitat destruction, destruction of the natural landscape, desertification, restriction of environmentally sustainable small scale agriculture and the danger of spreading genetically modified organisms by using GMO grass.

The state plans that a total of 14 golf courses will be built by 2010, including the three that already operate. Four courses will be built in the district of Limassol at Ayios Ambrosios, Paramali and Fassouri, two in Polis Chrysochous, two in Paphos and three in Ammohostos-Larnaca.