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News 25 Aug 17

Croatian Greens Oppose Golf Courses in Forests

As the Croatian government pushes for a law allowing golf courses to be built inside forest land, green activists have sounded the alarm, saying they will serve as 'a Trojan horse' for the construction of houses and villas as well.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Golf course in Australia. Photo: Flickr/David Stanley

Environmentalists and local governments in Croatia are opposing a legal proposal to allow the State Property Ministry to “green light” the construction of golf courses inside forests, bypassing the views of the local authorities.

“The proposal is unconstitutional because it enables the ministry to cut out the counties, towns and municipalities from the decision-making process. It derogates democratic processes,” Vjeran Pirsic, a veteran ecological activist, told BIRN.

He said the articles in the law removing veto powers from local authorities as well as from Croatian Forests – the state company managing the forests – should be cut from the proposal.

Croatia's Agriculture Ministry, responsible for proposing legal acts concerning forests, on August 3 opened the process of public discussion on the proposal.

By September 5, all those interested may put their comments or suggest amendments to the proposal, before the government places it in parliamentary procedure.

Under the proposal, the State Property Ministry – which was formed by the current government in October – will gain an important role in deciding the fate of golf courses inside forests.

Croatia's association of town councils has already expressed its concerns, fearing towns will be cut out of the decision-making process entirely.

The proposal forms part of the ministry's plans to speed up the process of encouraging foreign investments, in this case, constructing golf courses and accompanying resorts.

Although the Agriculture Ministry insists that the state will not allow the construction of golf course inside so-called “good-quality forests”, but only in “sparse woodland”, Pirsic is not reassured.

“It seems as if everything is being done along the lines of the ‘I swear by my mother’s eyes’ principle, which always ends badly,” he said.

It is not only the problem of golf courses, Pirsic continued. The fear is that they could serve as a "Trojan horse" for the further urbanisation of forests and the construction of villas.

Pirsic noted one project on the northern island of Krk, where around 300 acres for proposed golf projects envisaged also building 200 villas with swimming pools.

By a decision of the local authorities, only around 120 acres were allocated to the golf course in the end, and the number of proposed villas was cut to 30.

Pirsic also mentioned similar projects for urbanisation near the iconic Istrian medieval town of Motovun, as well as the high-profile project to build a resort on a golf course on Srdj hill, overlooking Dubrovnik.

Both projects were stopped after multiple court decisions in favour of activists opposing these projects, citing project documentation irregularities on the part of the investors.

Croatia’s Strategy of Tourism Development – adopted in 2013 under the government led by the Social Democratic Party, SDP – called for 30 new golf courses to be built by 2020.

Pirsic added that similar attempts to further ease golf course construction had existed since 1999, when the government drafted the previous Strategy of Tourism Development.

The passage laws to enable the building of golf courses inside forests, whatever the local urban plans say, were announced in the Strategy.

This is why the SDP-led government pushed for a similar law on forests in 2014, when it announced it as “an ideal investment model”. Back then, the Zagreb-based ecological NGO Green Action opposed the law.

The country of 56,000 square kilometres with a population of 4.2 million currently has 42 golf clubs.

It has only seven golf courses, however, while plans to construct around 60 more  exist. These are far from realisation.

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