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Promising to fast-track property permits is unrealistic

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I have read comments by Interior Minister Nicos Nouris on the subject of issuing planning permits within a very short period of time and the issue of building permits within the same day of application, if a project requires an environmental study, the building permit will be issued within 12 months.

That sounds great and we wish the minister all the best, but is this announcement more of a case of wishful thinking?

The minister’s well-meaning efforts cannot happen within the time frame that has been set.

Nouris seems to forget that this “new time frame” will be handled by the same civil servants who are at present the cause of the inexcusable delays.

There were similar announcements by his predecessors, with the setting up of a special “task force” to handle the applications of large scale projects, as well as the issue of permits by private architects, which came to nothing and we are now, regrettably, back to square one.

So, what are the reasons that encourage Minister Nouris to be so optimistic, although “hope is the last to die” as they say.

  • Planning permits for small scale housing projects in building plots to be issued by private architects. We suggested to the Ministry three years ago, that such architects should have professional indemnity insurance and pay compensation for wrongdoings/errors and in the worst case to cancel their professional license issued by ETEK (the technical chamber). This did not happen due to the architects’ reaction for such penalties and their lack of knowledge preferring to play it safe.  In order for this to be effective, only private architects should handle these projects.
  • Issue of building permits within the same day. This again should be handled by private architects/engineers. If you depend on the building authority for the issue of permits, you will find that the authorities will resist this because it will cause them to lose their “small kingdoms of governance” providing all sorts of excuses, with their favourite being “lack of staff”. Also, local authorities operate only two days a week to accept such applications, in addition to the never-ending sickness of staff and public holidays of 40 days a year.

So, the minister will set up another task force comprising of the same civil servants who are to blame for the existing delays.

He suggests that for large scale projects this will require a project manager (a civil servant) to be appointed at the cost of €10,000 to follow up the red tape procedure and thus speed up the issue of permits.

Even if we accept that the project manager is a necessity, why not use private firms duly licensed by the Ministry, in the first place?

A project requires other permits from public utilities, such as electricity, telephone, sewage, public water, drainage, etc.

We suggest that if such authorities drag their feet on anything else, they should be responsible, we even suggest that such people who take their time to respond should be personally responsible to pay damages.

Let’s not forget the tragic Halloumi case where no one was punished and the whole matter has been swept under the carpet.

There was also a case where a Greek court ruled against a post office employee who delayed the delivery of a letter and decided that this particular employee should personally pay for the compensation and not the Postal Authority.

  • Set up a committee of private sector representatives and civil servants (one per district) who can examine applicant complaints on the subject of delays and pay compensation to the applicant.
  • After the procedure to secure the building permit, numerous other procedures follow, such as the “dreaded” certificate of final approval. This takes anything between 6-18 months and for this reason, we suggest its issue by the supervising architect of the project.
  • After this, we have to go through the Lands Registry procedures, especially those regarding the land survey permit where every inch matters.
  • After this we need to go after the local authorities who issue the permits with the entire council having to approve the applications, then to approve the typed minutes, then to check the information. If we are to take Limassol Municipality, for example, this lovely municipality closes down altogether during the wine festival, carnival, Limassol run.

Nouris’ Ministry regrettably (not of his fault) has other problems for which he does not have control.

Yes, a lot of problems are caused by attitude and this is what the minister should focus upon, always penalising those who cause the delays, or moving them on (since you cannot fire them).

We are still working with a system, which has existed since the 1950s which cannot cope nowadays.

Although we appreciate the Minister is keen to show results, his advisors are not doing a good job.

The minister should involve the civil servants as little as possible and opt to utilise the private sector whose income depends on it.

We have submitted to the Ministry before, pressing matters to handle, such as the Rent Control Law, the lack of students/affordable housing, the reduction of rents and Airbnb, etc.

We encourage the minister to come up with new ideas, but his “lovely announcements of no substance” cannot, regrettably, be supported in reality or help the building industry and wider economy.

www.aloizou.com.cy