16 Nisan 2011 Cumartesi

'Election ploy' charges fly at Turkish forest gift

Currently, construction is allowed on only 5 percent of forested areas but a new bill aims to open the rest up for sale.

Currently, construction is allowed on only 5 percent of forested areas but a new bill aims to open the rest up for sale.
Turkey’s ruling party has been accused of using a proposed law that would open up valuable property in forested areas to construction as a ploy for political and financial gain ahead of the general elections.

The government has said the properties in question, called “2B lands,” need to be sold in order to prevent illegal settlements, but experts and nongovernmental organizations have cast suspicion on this motive, saying the issue has become a perennial topic before election periods.
“Why 2B lands covering Istanbul’s valuable Bosphorus forests are occupying the agenda before the elections instead of the 2B lands in Turkey’s eastern provinces is a question that needs to be asked,” Oktay Ekinci, the former head of the Chamber of Architects and a columnist for daily Cumhuriyet, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday.

Currently, construction is allowed on only 5 percent of 2B lands, but under the draft legislation prepared by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the rest would also be prepared for sale and development.

“If no intervention happens [to stop the law from passing], 95 percent of 2B lands could be opened for sale. Properties with a sea view and those close to urban areas will be delivered to the Housing Development Administration [TOKİ], which will build luxurious real estate on them,” Ekinci said.

The Constitutional Court has previously ruled that such a law would violate the Constitution, Ekinci said, adding that the AKP is trying to extend the scope of its development plans to other properties that are not considered within the category of 2B lands “as if they have already been occupied by other people.”
“At least it is possible to reforest these areas, but the draft does not care about that,” he said. “The government’s justification is to earn money from people who have occupied places that have lost their forest qualities.”

The Istanbul branches of the Chamber of Land Survey Engineers and the Chamber of Architects have released a press statement saying that opening 2B lands to development would destroy the city’s most important forested areas and water basins. “If all of the 2B fields are subjected to [the creation of] private estates, it would be impossible to sustain a unified forest,” the statement said.

Real estate investors, on the other hand, have argued that the Turkish government should open more state lands to development by the private sector.

“Turkey is among the top 10 destinations for real estate investments for foreigners,” Ömer K. İsvan, president of Servotel Corporation, a London-based boutique consulting firm dealing with hospitality and real estate development projects, told the Daily News on Tuesday.

“In Turkey, most of the land is still held by the state, unlike in many other European countries,” İsvan said. “It might be useful to privatize these lands and increase the potential construction areas for investors.”
According to İsvan, almost 60 percent of the total land in Turkey is owned by the state or falls under the authority of the Treasury Undersecretariat. Treasury, or “hazine,” lands cover vast areas of rural Turkey for which no private ownership is recorded at any time.

Noting that vast swaths of land were allocated to tourism projects in Turkey in the early 1980s, İsvan said, “This same method could well be used for real estate projects.” He said finding suitable land in Turkey for major real estate and hotel investments has become harder than ever. “In order to overcome this problem, more land is needed in the market.”

Talking about the investment opportunities for foreigners in Turkey, İsvan said there are investors who would like to be sure about the sustainability of the country’s positive economic outlook. “There are investors who are still cautious,” he said, adding that while he never believed in the Dubai market, which collapsed with the global economic crisis, Turkey is one of the most promising markets for real estate and hotel investors.

According to official data from the Turkish Land Registry, the overall number of foreign property buyers has increased by nearly 30 percent, from 73,000 in 2008 to 104,000 as of June 2010. More than 63 million square meters of property, classed as “immovable assets,” is owned by foreigners. Britons possess the largest amount with 6 million square meters, followed by Germans with 3.5 million square meters and Greeks with 3 million square meters as of last year.

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