Fresh doubt has been thrown on one of the biggest investment plans in Greece, the redevelopment of the old Athens airport in Ellinikon, since the Central Archeological Council (KAS) defined 120 hectares intended for residential construction as an archeological site.
This decision adds to a previous one from the Forestry Office of Piraeus, in May 2017, that defined another 15 hectares in the same area as forest area. The decision was finally cancelled, but now some environmental NGOs are mounting an appeal, raising fears new delays will occur.
SYRIZA, the party in government, was absolutely against this investment during its time in opposition, also organizing manifestations to block it, but raised it as a flagship project after its agreement with the creditors and the 3rd memorandum the Greek government signed with them. The implementation of this project is after all one of the commitments of this Memorandum.
The redevelopment of the old airport area covers some 2 million square metres and according to the contractor, it is the biggest urban regeneration in Europe. The estimated budget is €8bn, and the Greek state hopes it will generate more than €14bn in taxes and revenues once completed.
But the investment has faced difficulties from the very beginning, since the contract was only signed in November 2014, 14 years after the airport was closed.
According to the government Vice-President Yannis Dragasakis, the decision of the Central Archeological Council is paving the way for the implementation of the project as now “we have a clear decision that, according to the experts, is compatible with the investment”.
The member of the parliament Giorgos Kyritsis commented that “we did not want it, we are forced to implement it, we are therefore obliged to do so. But we will implement according to the law”.
At the same time, sources of the investors commented that “it is definitely a bad decision, we need to see how bad it is”.
The implementation of the Ellinikon project is a major political issue in Greece due to the size of the investment and also since it concerns one of the most expensive areas in the country, also known as “the Greek Riviera”.
The Greek government is struggling to make investment in the country part of its new political narrative, yet a series of events, like the threat to withdraw the licence of Eldorado Gold to operate in the Chalkidiki goldmines, is holding back the implementation of this strategy.
The airport of Ellinikon closed down in 2001, replaced by the new airport of Eleftherios Venizelos. In 2004 it hosted a number of events for the Olympic Games. Since 2016 some of its buildings have been used as temporary refugees camps.