Minister of State Akis Skertsos foretold important announcements by the Prime Minister at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) regarding the government’s housing policy. Speaking on public broadcaster ERA, the minister referred to the plan to create a government park on the site of the former PYRKAL munition factory in Hymettus, which will save the State at least 40 million euros on an annual basis.

More specifically, he began by saying that the government, for 1-1.5 years, has proceeded with the “systematic recording of state-owned real estate, for the first time in the country’s post-junta history”. This he said was done in a systematic way, and without much publicity. It is an issue linked to cheaper housing, explained the Minister of State. The increase in the supply of real estate will bring about a reduction in prices, he added and foretold “important announcements by the prime minister at the Thessaloniki International Fair. We have worked on a series of proposals, interventions and policies aimed at improving accessibility, especially of young people to cheaper real estate”, he noted.

He also pointed out that the best practices should be garnered from foreign cities with significant tourist traffic, saying that, after all, “the center of every big city cannot become an endless tourist zone. We have to protect the many and different uses, this means a living, dynamic and democratic center of a big city”, he said, adding characteristically that “Athens cannot be a one-themed tourist ‘Disneyland’. And here the discussion about the conditions under which someone rents Airbnb must open”.

In brief one could talk about “a strategic plan with short-term, medium-term and long-term actions”. To the question, what can be done in the short term, he answered: “we can and will run many interventions with state aid actions, which will immediately reach beneficiaries”.

Government Park – Relocation of Ministries

Analyzing the “ambitious”, as he called it, plan to create a government park, he first pointed out that “it shows the work that is done far from the limelight”.

The minister noted that, “what we discovered in the last three years is that the Greek State has very important real estate, but for which it has not done the slightest work for decades in terms of recording, classifying and exploiting it. We found for example that we have 19 ministries housed in the Attica basin in 191 buildings and of those, 141 are leased. While the state owns real estate, it rents venues to house services at a cost of 60 million per year.”

Consequently, he concluded, the amount is “huge” and calculating that if at least 40 million can be saved, these “can finance important social policies, we can expand the protection net for the vulnerable social strata. Here, we must ‘clean house’, which of course takes time.”

Going into more detail about the future government park, he said that it is “an excellent property of 15.7 hectares in the Municipality of Dafni-Hymettus, 3 kilometers from the center of Athens”, but on the other hand, it is “a foreign body within the municipality”.

According to the government plan, “nine of the 19 ministries that are spread throughout Attica” will be transferred there, as he said, giving two examples: “The Ministry of Development is currently housed in 37 buildings throughout Athens, the Ministry of Finance in 19 buildings. This is an image of a third-world country”, observed Mr. Skertsos.

Repopulating the center of Athens

Mr. Skertsos noted that many public services will continue to operate in the city center, however, the presence of such services alone is not a solution. The center “dies” after some time in the afternoon, he said, stressing that “the plan we are working on, places great emphasis on attracting multiple uses. The center of Athens must first of all be repopulated”.

This implies incentives for cheaper housing for young people, who will come to live “in economically and socially downgraded areas. In the last 10-15 years, we have seen a significant deterioration of the center of Athens”.

Also through the government park project, “about 350,000 square meters in the city center will be freed up”. At the same time, however, “we should also discuss freeing-up some of the buildings and plots of land so that they can become green spaces, that is, to expand the share of green space in the overall public space”, is another, parallel, goal.

These issues will be raised during the revision of the Regulatory Plan of Athens that is about to be released this fall, as well as the special urban planning scheme that will emerge as a whole for the relocation of these ministries. It is an overall project in which the Municipalities of Athens, Dafni-Hymettus, scientific and other bodies will be participating, he added.

The strategic Environmental Impact Assessment is also in public consultation and the government is awaiting comments from the scientific community and civic society. The next step, at the beginning of 2023, will be the tender for the PPP, aimed at the creation of the government park.

Given the opportunity, he also spoke about other “ambitious interventions”, such as the one on the southern seaside front, in Ellinikon or the planned interventions at the Olympic Stadium facilities, which will become, as he promised, “a modern sports center utilizing the great legacy of the Athens Olympics”.

Recovery Fund

As the Minister of State pointed out, all this is “part of the Greece 2.0 project, of the Recovery Fund. The future of the country lies in this plan, through integrated actions with secured funding. [It has to do with] How we will change the way the state and the economy operate, how we’ll create a modern, digital, green state, and an economy that will keep pace with the rest of the European economies”.

Among other things, he spoke of “a silent revolution that unfortunately does not attract the attention of the public”, and which concerns the structures of the economy. “Is it known that currently the Greek economy is much more extroverted and export-oriented than it was 10-15 years ago?” He noted that at the moment the corresponding percentage is at 40%. Another encouraging fact is that “we are the only country in Europe that has recorded a 7% increase in flights this year compared to 2019, which was also a record year for Greek tourism. This did not happen by accident,” he emphasized.

Public investments worth 80 billion

To turn the page for Greece, approximately 30-31 billion will be allocated through the Recovery Fund, an additional 22-23 billion through the new NSRF, while there is also the Rural Development Program. In total, “for the next 5 years, public investments amount to 80 billion euros, while at the same time large private investments, as well as smaller ones, have increased”. In conclusion, “Greece is gradually, but with steady steps, changing for the better”.

Asked if the public sector will be paralyzed in a pre-election year, Mr. Skertsos was categorical that this will not happen. The government has undertaken, he argued, specific commitments within the context of the Recovery Fund, for the projects to be delivered, but also many reforms, which must be done.

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