The House Environmental Committee yesterday discussed the problem of building in riverbeds and related problems caused by preventing the usual flow of water.
The president of the committee, Andres Facontis, underlined that the problem is prevalent in the district of Paphos. The main cause of concern is the improper registration of river tributaries and streams, many of which do not show up at all on government plans.
This means that in many cases, permission has been granted for construction and development on ravines and in riverbeds. This has caused major problems during the winter when rainfall is at a maximum. The committee will now attempt to register all of the waterways in Paphos however small, in an attempt to prevent further problems.
Building in these conditions has created untold problem and caused misery for many homeowners who end up with severe flooding of their properties during the winter months.
One couple, who wished not to be named for legal reasons, told the Cyprus Mail, “We bought a house in a village close to central Paphos about five years ago. It was supposed to be our dream home, but its turned into a nightmare.”
The couple say they had no idea that their luxury villa was built on a riverbed until returning home one day to find the entire ground floor under water. According to the couple, torrential rain had caused the main artery of the river to overflow and spill over into the smaller tributary.
Thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused and the couple were subsequently informed that their house had been built on a river.
“We couldn’t believe it,” they said. “And now we are having a fight with the developer, who says he obtained all of the correct building permits despite the fact that a house should obviously not have been built on the site.”
The couple say they are one of four houses, which have been affected to some extent by flooding.
This situation is also a problem in Peyia, where local councilor Linda Leblanc says she is concerned for the safety of many buildings.
“In some cases, the town planning department in Paphos seems to have no understanding of what they are approving.”
“For example, there is a huge problem in Lasa village where a lot of the ground is clay bentonite. This is completely unsuitable for buildings.”
In addition to the environmental committee’s plans, the councilor said she believed action by the geological survey department should also help.
“I heard the geological survey department have accurately mapped Cyprus using satellite technology and GPS. This will help to identify sensitive spots and hopefully development of these areas will no longer take place,” she said.
In theory, the plethora of new information should help the town planning and ensure co- ordination between the authorities. It should also ensure the no build areas are correctly noted.
Leblanc said, “We are moving in the right direction. The problem is that it’s misleading for authorities to pretend that they don’t know where these sensitive areas are. Everyone knows.”
The councilor regards recent progress as positive and pointed out that photographs of the proposed site are required as part of being granted permission to build from the town-planning department.
“Now that everything is computerized in these offices, there will be permanent photos of the areas available, and there will be no excuse to give the go ahead to build on ravines, riverbeds or slopes.”
Leblanc underlined that one of the problems in Peyia are the loopholes in the regulations.
“In Peyia, only five metres of the course of the river each side is protected. Obviously this doesn’t include the sloped sides of the river.”
“We have places in Peyia which are a nightmare. For example, there is a hotel built in the middle of two riverbeds. Flooding in the storms of 2006 badly damaged it.”
But the councillor pointed out that Peyia municipality have made positive moves and have created an anti-flood drainage system. So far there hasn’t been a repeat of the severe weather of a few years ago.
“Permits are still being given out to build on unstable slopes and river beds,” said Leblanc.
“These kind of actions are criminal, reckless and endanger human lives.”
“The authorities must stop from turning a blind eye to these matters. People have to start understanding that they can’t keep developing these unsafe areas, and most of the home owners have no idea of the danger they could be facing.”
Leblanc said that since the recent heavy rainfall in Paphos, many people have complained to Peyia council about flooding of their properties, caused by nearby houses being built on top of stream and river beds which are dry during warmer months.
“I am concerned that people are still thinking about money and how they can make millions from developing their land, even if the conditions are unsuitable.
“On the other hand, if areas are deemed protected, the landowners must be fairly compensated for this.”
Leblanc concluded, “We must encourage people to build safely and respect the environment. However, I am delighted that progress seems to be being made at long last.”
By Bejay Browne, Cyprus Mail, November 17, 2009