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Ministers plug golf course gap.

Byline: Charles Charalambous

THE GOVERNMENT has plugged a gap that would have allowed developers not to proceed with building golf courses once they had constructed tourist developments on the designated site, Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis said yesterday.

The original basis for granting golf course licences allowed the licence-holder to abandon the project after the initial stage of developing the land, Sylikiotis confirmed to the Cyprus Mail.

"The old basis allowed an early exit. We plugged that gap", he said.

A big part of public unease over the original proposal for new golf courses -- made in May 2004 -- was over the fact that once a licence-holder had completed the first stage of the project, involving the construction of luxury villas and houses nominally associated with the golf-course, there was no obligation to proceed with completing the course and opening its doors to golfers.

Within this scenario, the licence-holder would have been able to simply cash in and walk away, having made an enormous profit from legally building housing stock on what was until then relatively worthless agricultural land.

The new basis for awarding the licences for a total of 14 new golf courses, which was approved by the Council of Ministers on February 5 this year, will ensure that first of all, the contract for each course signed by a licence-holder will require him to lodge a e1/45 million guarantee. Then, if the original licence-holder decides to drop out of the project, ownership of the project will devolve on a pro rata basis to the owners of the houses on that golf-course.

"The intention is to protect the value of each property associated with the golf-course", Sylikiotis said. "We also fixed the scale of the housing. Previously, housing covering as little as 80 square metres was allowed. We have now set the minimum footprint of the living accommodation at 120 square metres."

The Minister also dismissed a series of allegations of ministerial conflict over the golf-course policy made in an article in Thursday's Phileleftheros, saying that the article was sensationalist and made up of "old stories being rehashed". The article refers to some matters which do not even come under the remit of the three-man Ministerial committee with responsibility for the golf-course policy.

"For example, the decision over whether to allow a land-swap involving Turkish Cypriot-owned land lies exclusively with the Interior Ministry. I talked personally to the owner of thousands of donums in the Limni area, and told him a swap was not possible. Issue closed", Sylikiotis said.

"The whole matter was finally decided one and a half months ago at the Council of Ministers", he said. The agreed policy is that "not one drop of water from public supplies, not even water reserves", should be used on the golf-courses -- rather, desalination plants will provide the supply for watering the courses. In specific areas where two or more courses are close enough to each other, then those courses will share a single desalination plant, to minimise the environmental impact.

The government originally intended that the desalination plants would be powered by renewable energy sources -- most likely solar panels. After further consideration, this idea was deemed impractical, so the plan was adapted to allow for traditionally generated electricity to be used to power the desalination plants. This was on two conditions: that the golf course operator should pay for the installation of the energy supply; and that for every kilowatt-hour consumed, the operator would make a fixed additional contribution towards renewable energy.

According to a reliable source who spoke to the Cyprus Mail, if the original licence-holder decides to drop out of the project, then the energy obligation will also devolve on a pro rata basis to the owners of the houses on that golf-course. The source referred to a possible figure of e1/410,000 per year per property, adjusted in relation to the property's footprint.

The source also said that although at this stage the energy aspect has been finalised, there are other aspects that still need to be discussed and finalised ahead of the drafting of contracts. The specific content and timing of the remaining discussions has not been made known.

"What is clear," he said, "is that as long as some questions are still undecided, some people are trying to stir things up in an attempt to gain some leverage."

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Mar 28, 2009
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