Land use (Cyprus)
Why should we care about this issue
Within the confined territory of a relatively small Mediterranean island, such as Cyprus, the rate, extent and intensity of land use changes can have far-reaching impacts on ecosystems and the environment. Activities such as housing, transport, manufacturing, as well as commercial and tourism development take up land and alter its natural state and functions. Many environmental problems are rooted in the use of land: land use has impacts on climate change, biodiversity loss, degradation and pollution of water, soils and air. In addition, certain land use practices, including land consolidation for commercial agriculture and specific housing policies which unintentionally result in urban sprawl, often lead to the reduction of landscape diversity and its multi-functionality. Less heterogeneous landscape patterns, especially within the fragile Mediterranean ecosystem, will eventually lead to reduced resilience and loss of ecosystem services, also increasing vulnerability to climate change impacts, including those from drought, wildfires, as well as flash-floods and coastal erosion.
Spatial planning, therefore, has a pivotal role to play in the promotion of sustainability, greatly affecting the natural environment, public health and quality of life, through, among others, the regulation of land use, the protection of natural assets and cultural heritage, the enhancement of the built environment and the integration of sectoral policies into spatial plans. The process of strengthening spatial planning through the introduction of more detailed provisions to specify the manner of implementation of spatial strategies and policies is an on-going process; thus, action plans and investment programmes deriving from the national Strategic Development Plan have become indispensable tools for promoting sustainability and enabling the implementation of policy measures according to the provisions of statutory spatial plans.
The state and impacts
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.
The 2020 outlook
The 2008 Minister’s guideline reports, on the basis of which spatial planning will be carried forward into the mid 2010’s, also spell out the future perspectives of spatial planning and set the strategic goals of future statutory spatial plans. Recognising that a policy for the comprehensive improvement of all areas is necessarily multi-sectoral and cannot be based on spatial planning alone, it is stressed that the prospects of improved economy, a clean and safe environment, higher living standards and the country’s position in the world must be addressed through an integrated and interdisciplinary approach. The main challenge, therefore, is to attain true sustainability; the effort to do so must be based on the identification and resolution of problems, the utilisation of comparative advantages, prospects and opportunities, as well as the handling of risks and threats. Among others, the following key areas are identified:
· The strategic geographic location of the Island and its urban areas as foci of a wide spectrum of development activities provides opportunities to strengthen their role as bridges of cooperation between other EU Member States and the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, in line with EU priorities. At the same time, it provides strong potentials for their development as a commercial cluster and a hub of seaport-airport infrastructure as well as related and complimentary activities.
· High global demand for diversified tourism products, in combination with the strategic location, economic, natural, cultural and climatic conditions, as well as the short distances between towns and urban and rural areas, provide ample opportunities for the attraction of sustainable, high quality, theme-oriented, alternative tourism to all areas.
· The robustness and flexibility of various economic sectors provide assurance for harnessing, in manufacturing and service industries, potentials derived from technological advances, as well as opportunities provided from environmentally friendly technology and ICT, the promotion of research and innovation, and participation in EU networks, programmes and projects.
· The historic cores and central areas of urban agglomerations concentrate the necessary elements and conditions, which make them highly privileged in terms of potentials for urban interventions and regeneration activities, with the objective of arresting urban sprawl and reversing suburbanisation phenomena, to stimulate local dynamics and ensure the long-term sustainability both of these areas and the wider agglomerations of which they form parts.
· The development orientations of each one of our urban areas over the years provide a strong basis for the enhancement of the polycentric model and the reinforcement of their functional role and sectoral specialisation as potential development poles for the whole of the Cypriot economy and the provision of necessary social and cultural services.
· Existing infrastructure characteristics, planned development densities, available land reserves, as well as the intensity of impacts on natural and cultural resources, which prevail in our urban agglomerations, provide ample opportunities for further planning and the undertaking of specific actions, through the provision of adequate incentives, the regulation of development, or the implementation of proactive urban policy measures. The basic objectives of such measures would be the attainment of clean public urban transport systems, the provision of sufficient parking spaces, the increase of appropriately landscaped open space and urban green areas, the facilitation of the mobility of persons with special needs, the creation of the appropriate infrastructure to upgrade social and cultural activities, the protection of cultural heritage and natural and cultural landscapes, the promotion of entrepreneurship and information society and the overall improvement of the quality of life.
The resulting strategic goals, recently approved through the planning system’s procedures and legal provisions, include a set of general, over-arching goals, as well as groups of goals on thematic areas, such as those concerning the environment, landscape, natural and cultural heritage; socio-economic considerations; and infrastructure, services of general interest and education. As far as the over-arching goals are concerned, the guideline reports specify the following, among others:
Towards the further elaboration of the goal of polycentric territorial development, it is imperative to reassess the strengths and weaknesses of towns, neighbourhoods, as well as particular areas and land use patterns, on the basis of their current development situation, historic evolution and inherent comparative advantages. This should be followed by the definition of cohesive development targets for each urban agglomeration and the development of a unique vision for each city, aiming for the well-planned promotion, regulation and implementation of development, within the scope of sustainability. In so doing, special emphasis must be placed on the management of natural resources, the environment, biodiversity and landscapes.
It is thus necessary to achieve a more efficient organisation of basic urban functions and land use distribution, in a way that will ensure the optimisation of urban economics and functionality. The creation of genuine local dynamics is therefore a crucial parameter within the overall strategy for urban areas, in order to ensure the long term viability of development and its further reinforcement through the application of sustainability principles both in planning practice itself, and in the choice of policy interventions.
An important basis for the effective and sustainable use of resources is to avert current trends in urban sprawl, so as to achieve, as much as possible, compact and organised development. The disorderly spread of urbanisation must be curtailed through the appropriate spatial planning practices, the implementation of specific measures and the introduction of suitable incentives for the control of land supply, the facilitation of development in areas ready to accommodate it, the regulation of relevant densities and the aversion of the speculative withholding of land ready for development.
Urban areas must be rendered more capable of contributing towards the attainment and promotion of their residents’ quality of life and the attraction of enterprises through the use of advanced information and communication technologies in all areas, including education, employment, social services, health and security. Particular attention must be paid to the resolution of conflicting land uses, the safeguarding of amenity in all areas, as well as the aversion of especially large scale technological hazards.
Towards a more efficient use of land, the safeguarding of the coexistence of activities under the appropriate prerequisites must be further encouraged, considering their particular needs for resources and weighing cost-benefit factors at the social, economic and environmental levels. At the same time, the provision of a variety of compatible land uses must be sought and encouraged in areas where this is desirable, particularly for housing, employment, education and training, social welfare services and recreational land uses.
Development in the tourism sector must be planned and organised through the exploitation of the comparative advantages of the Island in general and of each area individually. The improvement of the quality, efficiency and competitiveness of this sector is of paramount importance, through the adaptation, enrichment and differentiation of the tourist product on the basis of current tourist market trends and by environmentally upgrading areas of tourist interest. At the same time, the further upgrading of infrastructures and associated facilities is necessary, as are the encouragement of the improvement of services provided towards the integrated upgrading of tourist infrastructure, the overcoming of shortcomings in types and categories of tourist facilities, the development of the selected alternative and specialised forms of tourism and the attraction of significant tourist investments for the national economy. Relevant interventions should be concentrated in the implementation of the Revised Strategic Tourism Development Plan (2003-2010), within the framework of which the implementation of a sustainable model of tourism development is promoted.
A basic goal should be the creation of sustainable cities, which, among others, should be well planned and well functioning, with well designed public spaces, accessible to all social groups and ages; provide the widest and best possible opportunities for the selection of housing units to all groups and households; provide opportunities for the development of well integrated high quality sustainable buildings for all necessary uses; provide accessibility alternatives to the private automobile, to workplaces, schools and services; provide adequate and appropriate land for the necessary types of uses and activities, as well as seek its best possible utilisation; offer a choice of employment and training opportunities, individually or in cooperation with other communities, and support a dynamic business activity sector, which is beneficial to local society; provide opportunities for the recreation and entertainment of all their population; safeguard an attractive built and natural environment; allocate and safeguard an adequate reserve of land for future development and the adaptation to economic change; adequately serve local society; are safe and accessible to all; and strengthen the development of urban-rural cooperation networks.
Concerning the environment, it is specified that current statutory spatial plan provisions must be further elaborated in order to pursue the effective protection, upgrading and management of natural resources, the environment, biodiversity, landscape and natural and cultural heritage, as well as the improvement of the quality of life through the implementation of the overarching strategic goals. At the same time, they must pursue the further highlighting of each area’s invaluable natural and cultural assets and centuries-old history, which together constitute an uncontested comparative advantage of several areas in particular and of the whole Island in general. Basic goals must include the appropriate and sustainable management of solid, hazardous and liquid waste; the mitigation of pressures on air quality and atmospheric pollution; the dissuasion of pressures on environmentally sensitive areas and areas of outstanding landscape value, especially coastal areas; the implementation of sustainable mining and quarrying practices, including the rehabilitation of the environment and landscapes; the upgrading and revitalisation of the built environment and the natural and cultural heritage of each area; the establishment of a hierarchy national and regional parks in appropriate areas.
Regarding transport policy, strategic goals specify the need to implement a multidimensional transport policy to serve, in a balanced way, the function of each urban area as a whole and all modes of mobility, including national and regional networks and urban traffic management, especially in problem areas. They also call for the planning and implementation of sustainable, accessible and affordable urban transport systems, connected to transport networks between urban areas, as well as between urban and rural areas, in order to upgrade the quality of life and the environment, and to ensure the most appropriate location of urban functions and land uses, while paying special attention to traffic management and transport mode interconnectivity, including infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. Urban transport system planning must also consider various types of residential areas and their needs, the location of workplaces, as well as the quality of the environment and public space.
Last but not least, one strategic goal calls for the creation of public spaces of high quality and the improvement of existing ones in order to upgrade quality of life and the attractiveness of places of employment, through the development of a network of green and open spaces, pedestrian ways and accesses to seafront and other points of interest.
Existing and planned responses
To enable the effective management of land use in a sustainable manner, the spatial planning process requires both the holistic appreciation of the state of the environment and the extent to which land use policy affects it, as well as the identification of related key drivers and pressures. This is achieved through a parallel two-step process, concerning the collection and assessment, for each specific area under examination, of a wide variety of land data from diverse sources, followed by the integration of all sectoral policies’ territorial dimension into spatial planning policy provisions.
The first step includes geological, soil, water resources, land cover, biodiversity, natural hazards and related data, as well as information on designated natural, cultural and landscape heritage protection sites and networks, along with the expert opinion of corresponding competent authorities, to construct an Environmental Wealth Map, on the basis of which area-specific spatial policies are formulated; as well as detailed topographical, satellite and cadastral data, to assess landform and development trends on the ground, as well as enable the precise delineation of future land uses and areas of policy application.
The other step takes into consideration policies on economic development (industry, commerce, tourism etc), infrastructure networks (transport, utilities, IT etc.), services of general interest (health, education, recreation etc), as well as other cross-sectoral and integrated policies on such areas as rural development (on the basis of the national Rural Development Programme), integrated coastal zone management (on the basis of the Cyprus Coastal Area Management Project) etc., all of which are integrated into Local Plans, regarding their spatial dimension. The entire process is monitored through the scope and requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive.
In addition to the above area-specific inputs, the goals and objectives of the national Sustainable Development Strategy, as well as the recommendations of the Territorial Agenda of the EU, the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities, the European Commission’s Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment etc. have been incorporated by the Planning Board (an independent public body with advisory power over large areas of planning policy) into the core of the Minister’s guideline reports for the amendment (currently under way – 2008-2011) of Local Plans in the island’s four main urban areas and the Policy Statement for the Countryside, which, by and large, covers most rural areas. These reports are the main strategic level documents that set the framework for development and provide general guidelines for the review of statutory spatial plans.
Moreover, amendments of the planning legislation enacted in 2007, now provide for increased citizen participation through formal procedures of public hearings and public consultation, where anyone has the opportunity to submit written representations on any spatial plan under preparation. This is an acknowledgment that the support and participation of the public is essential to the achievement of sustainable development, while it promotes the transparency of the environmental decision-making processes. In addition to public hearings, concerned local authorities often organise open gatherings, where local residents have the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding the content of relevant spatial plans. These representations are then taken into account by local authorities in the preparation of their own official representations regarding the relevant Local Plan.
Within the current spatial plan review process, the Planning Board (an independent public body with advisory power over large areas of planning policy) has held public hearings, providing all those concerned the opportunity to express their views. These hearings, together with the work carried out by Joint Boards, (consultative bodies specifically set up for local interest groups and sectoral authorities to express their views during the preparation of each spatial development plan), provide for wider and more meaningful public participation in the formulation of spatial and urban policy. Moreover, through the implementation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, spatial development plans are subject to the appraisal of all environmental and social parameters, thus integrating the principles of sustainable development at an early stage and increasing awareness regarding the need for sustainability.