Archaeological council meeting cancelled, no decision over Helleniko property redevelopment project

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:27

A closely watched session of Greece's Central Archaeological Council (KAS) scheduled for Tuesday was called off, meaning no decision was taken for the Helleniko project - billed as the biggest property development in Europe and one of a handful of landmark privatizations that the bailout-dependent country has promised to complete.

Tuesday's cancelled session came after another meeting last week ended with the same result, i.e. no decision.

At stake is whether and to what extent members of the influential KAS will recommend that the large Helleniko expanse will be declared an area of "archaeological interest". The site is where the one-time Athens airport operated and where abandoned terminals, runways, the tarmac, auxiliary buildings and hangars still stand idle.

The union representing state-employed archaeologists has demanded that a major portion of the 620.5-hectare expanse be designated as protected, while critics point to yet another bureaucratic obstacle plaguing the specific privatization and practically every big-ticket investment in the country.

Another obstacle blocking the specific project will be broached on Wednesday, as a regional government council will hear appeals against a ruling by a forestry service decision declaring 3.7 hectares of the disused airport and surrounding empty lots as "forestland". The utterly controversial decision by a state bureaucrat relied on late 1930s-era photographs showing brush, scrubs, a row of trees etc. at the site.

The Helleniko redevelopment, along with the Eldorado Gold mining concession in northern Greece, is specifically mentioned in the third bailout memorandum as a privatization that must be completed by the government. Beyond the contractual obligation entailed in the memorandum, both privatizations are judged as a "litmus test" for the current leftist-rightist government to attract and facilitate major foreign direct investments in the recession-battered country.

The privatization of the Piraeus Port Authority and 14 regional airports around Greece are counted as successes of the Tsipras government so far.