An unlikely coalition of wealthy landowners, environmental activists and angry residents has come to light on the Greek island of Corfu to protest after the official launch of a luxury resort complex in a hitherto protected and virgin forest.
The Kassiopi property, estimated to be worth 120 million euros (about $ 140 million), is located in the Erimitis pine forest, in one of the most preserved areas of the island near the Albanian coast.
The New York investment fund NCH Capital, which obtained the property title in 2016, is planning to build a five-star hotel with 90 rooms, luxury residences and a port for pleasure boats.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitstotakis has already drawn criticism from environmentalists for encouraging investments in protected natural areas.
Among these projects is the exploration of hydrocarbons in the Ionian Sea rich in marine fauna, as well as the promotion of wind farms on the Greek islands.
But this time, the project also displeases Corfu’s wealthy owners.
– “A total disaster” –
During his visit to Corfu on July 11 to inaugurate the Kassiopi project, Kyriakos Mitsotakis had to face the surprising opposition of one of the island’s most prosperous owners, the British financier Nathaniel Rothschild, a member of the famous family of bankers.
In two tweets, Rothschild called the project a “total disaster” that is going to lead Corfu to “massive development in the 1970s” and “is not going to contribute anything to the local economy.”
The financier affirmed in those messages that the preserved coast of Erimitis is at risk of “destruction” and that “it is foolish for Mitsotakis to defend that project.”
British financier Ben Goldsmith, brother of conservative minister Zac Goldsmith, is another renowned opponent.
Northeast Corfu is a privileged summer resort for wealthy families like the Agnelli of Italy.
A group of some 200 British owners on the island urged Mitsotakis to back down.
“Building a hotel of this type, in this preserved and historic ecosystem, with the damage it will cause to wildlife, the sea and the natural forest, would be an affront to all those who care about the environment,” wrote the year. Corfu owners association passed to Greek Prime Minister.
The signatories warned of possible “general disapproval among friends of Greece around the world.”
The tender for Kassiopi was conducted by the Greek privatization agency in 2012.
He then received the endorsement of the country’s archaeological and forestry services and prevailed over a dozen complaints in court.
The State Council, the highest-ranking administrative court in Greece dealing with environmental disputes, also approved the project.
Work began in June with the destruction of a former Navy observation post.
– “It is good for Corfu” –
During his visit, Kyriakos Mitsotakis considered that the project is “good for Corfu and for the country”.
He added that Greece “needs” high-level tourism that “values” the territory and “respects” the environment.
The government claims that the project will create 1,000 jobs during the construction phase and another 500 during its operation.
On 49 hectares, it ensures that only 7% will be built, and that this will be done with bioclimatic architecture and anti-fire and seawater desalination systems for irrigation.
And the green spaces and the beach will continue to be public, said NCH Capital.