Department of Town Planning and Housing - The Department of Town Planning and Housing is a government department under the Ministry of Interior. Its main scope of operation concerns urban and spatial planning. The Department is made up of three major Sections, those of Housing, Planning and Development Control. The Housing Section undertakes the planning, design and management of public housing, at present almost exclusively serving refugees displaced by the 1974 Turkish invasion.
The Development Control Section functions as the higher central Planning Authority of the country; it includes the Sectors of Plan Implementation and Planning Enforcement, and provides the administrative umbrella for five of the nation's nine independent Local Planning Authorities (District Offices). The Planning Section consists of various policy and project-oriented Sectors, such as those of Regional and Transportation Planning. The Department also includes the Sectors of Preservation and Planning Schemes, as well as supporting administration, while it provides personnel and advice to the Nicosia Master Plan, a bi-communal institution involving both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities of the divided capital.
The Planning System in Cyprus - A three-tier hierarchy of development plans is based on the concepts of the “Island Plan,” which refers to the national territory and the regional distribution of resources and development opportunities, the “Local Plan,” which refers to major urban areas or areas undergoing intensive development pressures and rapid changes, and the “Area Scheme,” at the lower end of the hierarchy. Area Schemes refer to areas of a smaller scale and are more detailed and specifically project oriented, gradually becoming indispensable tools for addressing sustainability issues and enabling the implementation of planning policy. A set of regulations based on the Streets and Buildings Law, controlling setbacks, access, drainage etc., as well as uniform standards of construction, including earthquake and fire safety requirements, are commonly applied to all new development. Furthermore, in areas within Local Plans published under the Town and Country Planning Law, locally specific sets of provisions and guidelines govern a series of factors, including building height, volume and density, the subdivision of land, provision of public amenities, parking requirements, interventions in sensitive historic areas etc.
Key Territorial Issues - Roughly beginning in the 1960s, the suburbanization of the main towns of Cyprus was based, to a great extent, on rural out-migration, while it was accelerated by the resettlement of refugees from areas occupied by the Turkish army in 1974. Whereas new suburban growth still continues in conurbation fringes and around tourist resorts, it is accompanied by a parallel trend in the growth of smaller towns and villages within easy commuting distance from the main urban centers. On the contrary, more remote villages in mountain regions continue to lose population, preferred only as locations for country homes.
Within this overall situation, two key problem areas have been identified:
- Urban areas in decline. The problems besetting urban areas are complex and varied. The expansion of cities has been followed, as elsewhere, by the deterioration and disintegration of historic urban cores due to the exodus of populations and businesses towards areas with a more competitive edge because of better accessibility and availability of infrastructure. This gradual abandonment has in turn led to a fall in the quality of the urban environment, accompanied by a more general deterioration of economic and social conditions. To address these problems, the Department of Town Planning and Housing plays a leading role in the promotion of their socio-economic regeneration through the improvement of the built environment and cultural infrastructure, based on a broader set of measures for Integrated Urban Regeneration taken in cooperation with central government agencies and Local Authorities. Actions envisaged include the rehabilitation of buildings and street elevations, the development of pedestrian and bicycle trails and green spaces, and the creation of cultural centers as well as care centers for the elderly and children.
- Disadvantaged mountain areas. The mountain villages of Cyprus have, to a greater or lesser extend, been isolated in the past. Although recent improvements in transport and telecommunications have undoubtedly improved the overall situation, these areas continue to lose population, in spite of their clear advantages in terms of climate, environment and community, while they still lag behind urban areas in terms of employment opportunities and quality of life. In cooperation with other central Government agencies and in partnership with civil society and the private sector, the Department of Town Planning and Housing will be implementing a series of measures and actions to facilitate the development of thriving local communities, promote the sustainable development of rural areas and the diversification of their economy. Objectives include the development of special interest products and activities, such as traditional crafts and rural tourism, to exploit the assets of each particular area within the framework of sustainability and improved quality of life.
- Other territorial challenges identified include those associated with urban dispersal as opposed to agricultural restructuring and nature protection, especially in the countryside, where new development continually encroaches on prime agricultural land and areas rich in natural resources. Pressures on land development for holiday homes further complicate this situation where, due to the pleasant landscape and sunny climate of Cyprus, there is already a high demand for the acquisition of holiday homes by overseas owners, notably pensioners from northern countries. With EU accession and the opening up of the real estate market this trend is expected to accelerate, with negative effects on housing affordability for the bulk of the local population. The Department has recognized the need to address these issues and is currently working on relevant policy formulation.
The European Dimension of Spatial Planning in Cyprus - The Department of Town Planning and Housing is the representative of Cyprus in the Council of Europe's Cultural Heritage Committee (CD-PAT), the European Conference of Ministers Responsible for Spatial Planning (CEMAT) and the European Landscape Convention, promoting the protection, management and planning of landscapes, as well as the Human Settlements Committee of the UN's Economic Commission for Europe. Within the framework of CD-PAT, the Department contributes to the European Heritage Network (HEREIN), while it also participates in the European Dry Stone Network (REPS) within the framework of Community initiative INTERREG III/C.
The Department of Town Planning and Housing has been the beneficiary of two EU LIFE – Third Countries Projects, in the first of which the design of bicycle networks in the four main urban areas of Cyprus has been completed, whereas for the second, under the acronym URBANGUARD, work is currently under way on capacity-building for the incorporation of urban sustainability parameters in spatial planning policy through the use of indicators.
With the accession of Cyprus to the EU, the Department of Town Planning and Housing becomes a full member of the European Spatial Planning Observatory Network (ESPON), and it is soon expected to be able to effectively contribute to the network's data navigator as well as participate in the formulation of the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP). Finally, the Department provides expertise on the spatial planning dimension of nature protection within the committee set up by the Environment Service concerning Cyprus contribution to the EU's NATURA 2000 network.
Source: Press And Information Office, Republic Of Cyprus, 2005