September 28, 2017 / 12:30 PM / a year ago

Greece hopes to resolve Hellenikon project obstacles next week

ATHENS, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Greece hopes next week to overcome objections from archaeologists to a major tourism project in Athens that is part of the country’s third international bailout, a deputy minister said on Thursday.

Greek developer Lamda signed a 99-year lease with the state in 2014 for the 620-hectare wasteland of Hellenikon, once the site of Athens airport.

Backed by Chinese and Gulf investors, Lamda submitted an 8 billion euro ($9.4 billion) plan in July to turn the site into one of Europe’s biggest coastal resorts.

But the project has faced delays, partly over a long-running row between developers and those who fear it will destroy the environment and Greece’s cultural heritage.

The government’s top advisory body on the protection of antiquities, the Central Archaeological Council, failed to decide whether to approve the plan again on Wednesday.

Its 17 member committee has now adjourned for a third time this month and will convene again next Tuesday.

“I think that the process will be concluded on Tuesday,” Deputy Economy Minister in charge of investments, Stergios Pitsiorlas, told Real FM radio.

“It’s reasonable that time is needed to reach a decision through smooth procedures and with a strong consensus,” he said, “As long as there are no exaggerations.”

The project has become a major political issue in Greece. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipas, whose leftist party strongly opposed it before coming to power in 2015, called ministers to his office to discuss Hellenikon on Thursday.

The main issues centre on whether part of the old airport should be classified as an archaeological site and what would happen to any antiquities found during development.

Lamda has committed under a memorandum of understanding to protecting any archaeological finds and providing the funds needed to showcase them. But the association of Greek archaeologists says that memorandum is not legally binding.

The archaeological council’s recommendations are not binding but will be taken into account by the culture minister, to make sure antiquities found are protected, before the government can sign off on the project as part of the licensing process.

Greece hopes to issue a decree for the project to proceed by the end of the year, in keeping with the timeline agreed under the bailout deal. ($1 = 0.8490 euros) (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; editing by David Clarke)

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