More than six decades after Britain’s 144-year control of Cyprus ended, one of the former coloniser’s enduring legacies on the Mediterranean island is set to go following a “ground-breaking” change in land law.
In a milestone agreement between the UK and Cyprus, restrictions on residential developments on British military bases on the island will be removed for Cypriots, the Republic’s President Nicos Anastasiades said on Monday.
The move will create “multiple benefits”, the president said.
After Cyprus gained independence in 1960, the UK retained control of two Sovereign Base Areas ― in Akrotiri and Dhekelia ― covering three per cent of the island’s area, or 254 square kilometres.
About 12,000 Cypriots live in those areas — more than the number of British military personnel and their families — but non-military development on the bases has been generally prohibited.
The new accord, agreed in 2014 under then British prime minister David Cameron, will come into effect on Monday, May 16, and allow owners to submit planning applications to develop properties in line with rules elsewhere on the island.
“This is a truly historic agreement,” the Cypriot president told officials gathered at Nicosia’s presidential palace on Monday.
“[It] is expected to not only have important development prospects for those who reside, or who have properties, on the bases, but for the economy and society more generally at an especially difficult time following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
Britain’s high commissioner to Cyprus, Stephen Lillie, called the accord “a memorable moment” in ties between the two nations.
“Our agreement means that, as far as possible, residents in the bases will now enjoy the same rights as Cypriots living in the republic to sell and develop their land and property and all the benefits that brings,” Mr Lillie said.
“I take pride in the fact that we have worked together to deliver a change that will have a real and positive impact on people’s lives.”
The new accord will allow residential, commercial and other developments on the bases in a move that President Anastasiades said will upend the “distortions and imbalances" that left locals feeling unjustly treated on an island already grappling with tense divisions.
About 6,150 hectares will now be open to development across the two bases in a move the president said will boost the economy.
British Forces Cyprus said that, for the first time, third-country nationals in addition to Cypriots will be able to own property, live, and run a business in the base areas ― subject to environmental, security and zoning considerations.
Britain’s Cypriot bases are important strategic assets with the RAF Akrotiri, situated near the city of Limassol, used as a forward mounting base for several operations in the region.
The war in Ukraine has heightened their importance to the UK.
In a visit from Gen Sir Mark Carleton-Smith to Cyprus, the first British chief of general staff to do so in ten years, he highlighted the small island’s significance to the British military.
“The UK is fortunate to enjoy a close bilateral partnership with the Republic of Cyprus and we retain sovereign bases here and have for many decades,” he said.
“They offer a military platform for us to base troops in the eastern Mediterranean but also to use it as a springboard to shorten our response times across the region. It’s a region with a degree of strategic volatility and it’s to our military advantage to acclimatise, train and prepare troops here in Cyprus.”
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded following a Greek-sponsored coup. A Greek-Cypriot majority population live in approximately two-thirds of the southern part of the island in an internationally recognised Republic. Meanwhile the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot administered northern part of the island is only officially recognised by Ankara.