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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Greek experts give go ahead for Dh34bn resort project

Decision by senior archaeologists to conditionally permit a major tourism development

Hellenikon, the site of the planned resort, stretches across 6.2 million square metres. Above, Olympic Airways aircraft left stranded on the airport since it was closed down in 2001. Yorgos Karahalis / Reuters
Hellenikon, the site of the planned resort, stretches across 6.2 million square metres. Above, Olympic Airways aircraft left stranded on the airport since it was closed down in 2001. Yorgos Karahalis / Reuters

Greece welcomed a decision by senior archaeologists to conditionally permit a major tourism project in Athens on Wednesday, saying it cleared the way for the country to turn the site into one of Europe's biggest coastal resorts.

The €8 billion (Dh34.62bn) project to develop the disused Hellenikon airport site, backed by Arabian Gulf and Chinese funds is a key term of Greece's international bailout and is closely watched by its official creditors and potential investors in the crisis-hit country.

The Greek developer Lamda signed a 99-year lease with the state in 2014 for the 1,530 acre area, once the site of Athens airport. But the project has faced delays, partly over a long-running row between developers and those who fear it will destroy the environment and cultural heritage.

After three inconclusive meetings in recent weeks, the Central Archaeological Council (CAC), an advisory body, recommended on Tuesday that about 74 acres of the plot under the project be declared an archaeological site.

"The decision is fine," said the deputy economy minister in charge of investments, Stergios Pitsiorlas. "The fact that a small area is declared of archaeological interest shields the whole process from future litigation."

Mr Pitsiorlas said the recommendation meant that archaeologists will have a closer supervision of construction work.

Lamda submitted its detailed development plan for Hellenikon in July, setting off a licensing process which will wrap up with a decree.

It was not immediately clear how the CAC's recommendation could affect Lamda's construction plan.

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Lamda said it was waiting to be officially notified over the decision before making any comment.

The recommendation is not binding, but the culture ministry always respects the body's decisions.

Greece on Monday overcame another hurdle to the project by winning an appeal over objections by forestry officials.

Hellenikon has become a major political issue in Greece, which is slowly emerging from a multi-year debt crisis. The prime minister Alexis Tsipras, whose leftist party strongly opposed it before coming to power in 2015, is now seen as keen to implement the deal to help boost economic activity and reduce unemployment, the euro zone's highest.

Referring to the council's decision, the deputy foreign minister Yiannis Amanatidis said it was "a complicated process which was resolved in the best possible way".

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