Land use - State and impacts (Cyprus)
The on-going harmonisation of Cyprus with EU policies and principles has had an overall positive effect on the sustainability of land use and spatial planning practices. In addition to the mandatory adoption of Community directives on specific environmental issues, European guidance documents regarding spatial and urban development have been taken into consideration in the formulation of national spatial policies. Regarding territorial cohesion and sustainability, Cyprus, as a small island Member State, is particularly concerned with issues of peripherality, polycentricity, insularity, competitiveness and balanced territorial development. Specifically, these issues include overcoming problems of accessibility, physical isolation as a consequence of insularity, overdependence of the economy on tourism, insufficient capacity to finance innovative activities, continuous depopulation of remote rural areas, structural deficiencies of the public transport sector, as well as limited natural resources, including low capacity of coastal areas for further tourist development. Moreover, these issues concern meeting challenges such as exploiting the potentials of the island’s advantageous location at the crossroads of three continents in terms of international cooperation and economic development based on service provision, effectively harnessing the country’s scientific and research personnel in terms of employment and competitiveness, efficiently adapting maritime infrastructure in terms of short sea shipping and its logistics dimension and successfully developing synergies between a limited number of relatively small urban areas to make up for the lack of a metropolitan growth pole on the island. All of these problems and potentials clearly have environmental ramifications, which must be appropriately addressed.
The 2008 Minister’s guideline reports (the main strategic level documents that set the framework for development and provide general guidelines for the review of statutory spatial plans) identify five main challenges that need to be overcome for sustainable spatial development:
· Inadequate functionality of the urban network’s spatial structure, in reference to a polycentric system of nodes with national, European and global scope
· Insufficient development of the role of each distinct urban agglomeration, within the structure of a polycentric system
· Inefficient relationship between urban agglomerations and their rural hinterland, particularly with regard to the support of small town infrastructure and services, the establishment of an urban-rural partnership and the aversion of spatial imbalances
· Degradation of significant natural and cultural resources
· Unequal access to transport and communications networks
In addition, four main opportunities are stressed, all of which need to be explored in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly manner:
· Development and introduction of new technologies
· Continuous improvement of transport, energy and communications networks
· Establishment of urban-rural partnership networks
· Judicious management of natural resources, as well as cultural heritage and landscapes
Among others, these guideline reports also identify a number of environmentally relevant problems related to land use and spatial development.
Urban Sprawl: Regarding spatial development patterns, in sharp contrast to the sustainable and compact city model, a pronounced trend of urban sprawl has become prevalent, particularly at the edges of urban agglomerations. This in turn causes increased traffic, energy consumption and infrastructure costs, while degrading the quality of the environment. An additional problem contributing to urban sprawl is the speculative retention of vacant land ripe for development, particularly in more central areas, which also contributes to considerable increases in land values. Urban sprawl phenomena are also associated with the relatively low densities designated in parts of urban areas, which do not support the most efficient utilisation of local land development potentials, particularly along transport corridors and nodes, where public transit systems can most effectively be developed. The low capacity to provide necessary infrastructure for the development of certain areas within urban agglomerations, especially regarding their accessibility, further aggravates urban sprawl problems and contributes to increases in land values, particularly in relation to affordable housing. Moreover, the lack of necessary infrastructure in designated areas for land uses other than residential, especially for industrial development and service provision (office space), combined with increases in land values and, in some cases, lack of adequate parcel sizes to accommodate relevant activities, leads to intense pressures for further expansions of development boundaries.
Deprived Urban Neighbourhoods: Problems of demographic imbalance, social deprivation and quality degradation exist in central cores and other pockets within urban agglomerations. In such areas, especially in historic urban centres and along the Buffer Zone in the divided agglomeration of Nicosia, due to the military occupation, since 1974, of 36% of the country’s territory by Turkish troops, conditions of social and economic disintegration are dominant, in association with extensive abandonment, particularly of older buildings. Some of these remarkable examples of our architectural and cultural heritage are threatened by physical decay, possible demolition and replacement with new structures of dubious architectural quality. In addition to demographic and social problems, degraded urban cores are also blighted by the presence of incompatible land uses, decreased economic activity, traffic congestion, as well as lack of open green spaces. These conditions in turn hinder their economic and social development in balance with other areas and their attractiveness as places to live in, work at and visit.
The Urban Environment: Outside central areas, incompatible uses also have negative impacts on residential areas, as well as the potential development of desirable dynamic alternative land uses. The attractiveness of several urban areas, especially more central ones, for living, working, visiting and the overall urban environment is greatly affected by the lack of developed parks, squares and public open spaces in general, as well as the lack of appropriate landscaping and maintenance of the few existing such spaces. At the same time, several areas suffer from environmental degradation and overuse or unsustainable use of natural resources. This phenomenon is particularly acute in coastal areas and along seasonal watercourses. In many seaside areas there is significant coastal erosion, greatly due to human activities. As important environmental, landscape, architectural and cultural heritage elements of urban areas, coastlines are often inadequately accessible to the general public, insufficiently presented and have not been properly managed. Other areas are marked by incongruent interventions. Certain parts of urban agglomerations, including industrial areas, lack sufficient basic infrastructure, such as run off drainage systems and systems for the management of solid, hazardous and liquid waste. Such areas are prone to flash flooding during heavy rainfall. Certain coastal areas are marked by intensive construction related to tourism activities no longer considered desirable as well as a lack of necessary infrastructure to attract alternative desirable tourism activities.
Quality of Life: Urban areas are, in general, characterised by a relative lack of cultural infrastructure, the development of which could contribute both to the population’s opportunities for cultural growth and the linking of culture and tourism as significant economic activities. The insufficient provision of community infrastructure, including multiple activity centres, creativity centres for children and youth, care centres for special groups, as well as adequate spaces and services for the development of public entertainment and recreation opportunities, including adequate and accessible urban parks, open spaces and beaches, downgrades amenities related to quality of life, work and leisure, for residents and visitors alike.
Transport and Mobility: Serious problems, including traffic congestion, decreased road safety, ambient noise and air pollution, beset all urban agglomerations due to the excessive use of the private automobile, itself a consequence of the prevalence of urban sprawl, the lack of quality and efficient mass transportation systems, and the lack of infrastructure for the promotion of environmentally friendly alternative means of mobility; at the same time, the mobility of population groups that do not own a car is greatly impaired. The development of sustainable activities in urban areas, particularly in central cores, is thus inhibited by a combination of forces, including congestion, incomplete road networks in several cases, inadequate traffic management, lack of parking spaces, and conflicting land uses.
In addition to problems identified in the examination of urban sprawl phenomena, landscapes are threatened with accelerating fragmentation, rather than specialisation, resulting from continuous pressure for the expansion of development boundaries, trends for lower land use intensity and greater extensiveness, agricultural abandonment, as well as the continuous encroachment of built up areas into surrounding semi-natural areas, which, in addition has negative effects on climate change due to soil sealing and the gradual reduction of greenhouse gas sinks.
 Seasonal watercourses are a typical feature of the Mediterranean ecosystem and landscapes. These are streams or wide river beds which flow only intermittently, sometimes with great force, during the rainy season. They are often important corridors for wildlife and significant green belts of riparian (native Mediterranean species) and other vegetation (e.g. eucalyptus etc). They are also very sensitive elements of the natural environment, providing aquifer interfaces, often prone to flooding.
 For example, low quality high density tourist accommodation, intensely commercialised noisy drinking establishments, large scale tacky souvenir shops etc.