Mayor Nicolaides: “Limassol has a unique business ecosystem”

Nicos Nicolaides, Mayor of Limassol, explains how the city is striving to adapt to its citizens’ changing needs, while aiming to meet the challenge of being selected as one of the EU’s 100 cities to achieve climate neutrality and smart city status by 2030.

There is a general consensus that there’s not enough housing for rent or for purchase in Limassol and the prices are constantly skyrocketing. What are your plans to tackle this problem?

House prices and rents are regulated by the free market and as long as demand exceeds supply, they will go up. To contain prices, the amount of accommodation needs to be increased and one way is for the state to provide incentives for land developers to invest in housing projects, thus increasing supply to the market. These incentives could take the form of additional building factors for the construction of affordable housing units. Apart from offering incentives, however, it is now more than ever necessary for the state to deal with the issue of social housing in a more targeted way and further expand social housing programmes. Recognising the urgency of the problem, the Limassol Municipality has taken an initiative to allocate three municipal plots in prime locations, with a total area of 31,000 sq.m., for affordable housing purposes. In September 2020, we signed an agreement with the Cyprus Land Development Corporation (CLDC) for a joint project to build approximately 600 affordable residential units to help hundreds of our fellow citizens – young couples, low-income families and students – to acquire or rent a home at an affordable price. Over the last three years, it has taken an immense amount of effort to overcome huge obstacles, due to bureaucracy and financing problems on the part of the Government, to bring this project to implementation and we are still trying. I hope that the project, which is due to be constructed in phases, will finally kick off later this year.

Despite the housing issue, Limassol obviously seems to have a competitive advantage over other cities in Cyprus, when it comes to foreign investors looking to settle and work on the island. What is the special attraction?

Limassol has a unique business ecosystem, characterised by its vibrance, dynamism and outward-looking nature. It has developed into a leading international service centre with numerous globally renowned companies, both local and international, active in or from Limassol in the sectors of commerce, marketing, consulting, banking, oil and gas, real estate and construction, shipping, and IT-related activities. The presence of more than 200 companies providing shipping services has given the city a prominent role in shaping global shipping policies. Furthermore, the impressive increase in high-tech-related business activities over the last few years is rapidly turning Limassol into a regional IT centre. Among the factors that make our city an extremely attractive place for investment are its high-quality professional services and personnel, the low cost of doing business, a very good infrastructure, and Limassol’s unique characteristics as an exciting cosmopolitan place to visit and live in.

As part of efforts to transform the city’s public transport, Limassol’s buses are going electric. Is the infrastructure ready to sustain this change? What is your vision as regards Limassol’s public transport model?

No city in the world has ever been able to solve its traffic problems without having a modern and reliable public transport system. To this end, the new bus system which is about to start its operation in Limassol, is a very positive development and it could be a gamechanger. To support the new public transport system, which includes a fair number of electric buses, the Ministry of Transport and the Municipality are establishing:

⋅ A Central Bus Station in Themistokleous Street

⋅ A Transfer Station in the Epaminonda area

⋅ ‘Park and Ride’ systems above and below the highway

⋅ Bus Lanes on the Seafront Avenue, Leontiou and Nikou Pattichi Streets

⋅ A carbon-free zone for buses below Gladstonos Street

⋅ Anexartisias Street as a one-way street

⋅ A shuttle service with the new electric buses for the city centre

All these are absolutely necessary in order to create and support the momentum for the city’s new transport system.

In 2022 Limassol was selected by the European commission as one of the 100 cities in Europe to be provided with community funds in an effort to achieve climate neutrality and smart city status by 2030. How is this project going so far?

The EU Cities mission programme aims to achieve climate neutrality and smart city status by 2030 for 100 EU cities, which will act as hubs for experimentation and innovation to enable the rest of Europe’s cities to keep pace and follow, in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal. Limassol’s selection as one of the 100 cities naturally satisfies us but, at the same time, it presents an extremely difficult task and a very big challenge. The goal of transforming cities to low-carbon, climate-resilient, smart and sustainable cities by 2030 is an ambitious and difficult undertaking, because so much has to be done in a relatively short time. It is, at the same time, a historic opportunity for the transformation of local society and one that will lead to a series of benefits for our citizens: energy efficiency, quieter modes of transport, better air quality, reduced traffic congestion, healthier lifestyles, new jobs and more. For the planning and development of Limassol’s strategy for climate neutrality, the Municipality of Limassol has mobilized the entire local ecosystem – government departments, universities, research centres, NGOs, agencies, companies and investment organisations. At the same time, with an emphasis on the participatory approach, citizens are invited and encouraged to take an active role in leading the transition of the city of Limassol to climate neutrality as co-designers, co-creators, co-implementers and co-beneficiaries. At present, we are at the stage of preparing our plan for the strategy, projects and funding of this effort in five areas: Energy, Buildings, Transport, the Circular Economy and Coasts and Seas, plus a sixth horizontal area: innovation and technology.

You have been quite vocal about how Limassol can become an international destination for young entrepreneurs who want to develop their ideas in the blue economy and maritime services sector. What is the Municipality doing about this?

Innovation is crucial for the sustainable development of the blue economy which, in turn, supports entrepreneurship, contributes to the protection of the coastal and marine environment, creates employment opportunities and enhances social welfare. The Limassol Municipality has proceeded with the development of its own Blue Innovation Centre, to give young entrepreneurs and other stakeholders the opportunity to highlight the challenges of the blue economy and develop start-up ideas for pertinent technologies, products and services. By using the supportive environment of our city’s shipping industry, the right momentum can be created for Limassol to become an international destination for young entrepreneurs who want to develop their ideas in the blue economy and shipping services sector. The Centre operates with the contribution and participation of the academic community, research institutions, the private sector and public bodies and organisations.

This interview first appeared in the June edition of GOLD magazine. Click here to view it.

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