Razing Vows Undone, Greece Will Legalize Buildings in Forests

Αssociated Press

A wildfire burns a field with olive trees in Vilia area some 60 kilometers (37 miles) northwest of Athens, Greece, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS - As Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would not allow development in forests that burned in this summer’s wildfires, his government is moving to legalize buildings unlawfully constructed in woodlands.

An online platform is being set up and will begin in mid-September allowing people who built wherever they wanted in forests in violation of alleged laws to stay there, after pledges by successive governments to stop it and raze them.

There won’t be any penalties for seizing public land, including in forests that are supposed to be protected from development but in some places have been  built up.

Instead, those who broke the law and built there can have the residence legalized by showing proof of an online payment of 250 euros ($296.55) with a copy of their ID or passport, and also an engineer’s statement.

In December, 2018, the then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA also backed off a vow to demolish unlawful buildings that were blamed for the death toll of 102 people in July 23 wildfires that year, blocking off escape routes to the sea in the village of Mati.

Previous governments allowed the practice so as not to lose voters although  unlawful buildings were also blamed for the deaths in floods in towns outside Athens where they blocked gullies and water run-offs and as the state wants to bring in money despite the environmental damage.

The unlawful structures and homes range from tiny cottages to villas on the sea built wherever people can seize the land, including state properties, and are allowed to do so without consequence apart from paying fines or bribing officials.

Then-premier Alexis Tsipras said he would stop unlawful construction after blaming previous governments for a policy of allowing them, then legalizing them with payments of penalties, which he also did.

His government also gave a discount on penalties for homeowners unlawfully building structures, some 20 percent off, instead of tearing them down as promised. They are mostly second residences in unzoned areas, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki.

At that time, figures from Greece’s Technical Chamber of Commerce, which represents building contractors and civil engineers, said there were some 1.073 million wholly or partially illegally built structures.