Idlib: Salvation Govt proposes urban plans including IDP camps
In a new step in the housing and urban sector in Idlib and western Aleppo, the Ministry of Local Administration in the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), which operates in the region, recently announced urban development plans for the towns and cities of Sarmada, Harem, Killi, Salqin, al-Atareb, and al-Hamama.
The Ministry also announced the opening of the objection period to the zoning plans for the cities and towns included in the expansion of the urban plan, the latest of which is the objection period to the zoning plan for the city of al-Dana, starting from January 10 to 25.
These plans have caused controversy among the people in the mentioned areas, especially those affected by the expansion, given the difficult economic conditions the region experiences. Some consider that there are more pressing priorities and needs to focus attention on.
Salvation Govt clarifies
The advisor to the Minister of Local Administration and Services in the Salvation Government, engineer Said al-Ashqar, explained to Enab Baladi that the zoning plan for the city of Harem was issued for the first time in 1985 and underwent several amendments until the digital version was issued in 2010, which was not announced due to objections at that time.
He noted that the Ministry of Local Administration worked on announcing the plans that had not been open to objections for a long time due to the current conditions in northern Syria and finding a solution for violations resulting from the continuous displacement of its people from “the regime’s oppression.”
After considering the objections filed by property owners whose properties fall within the zoning plan for the city of Harem, a new version of the plan was issued after amendment and adopted by the municipality of the Harem district, and property owners can review the plan upon their visit to the municipality.
Regarding the expansion plan for the town of Sarmada, the town of Sarmada and al-Dana were included within the planning program in 2021, according to al-Ashqar, and topographic surveying operations were carried out, and an expansion plan was prepared for the town of Sarmada, which reached an area of more than 700 hectares. The objections to the expansion area were completed in the past weeks, and the first version of the zoning plan for the expansion was issued and adopted by the concerned municipality.
Civil engineer Ali al-Ali believes that the expansion of zoning plans in the cities of Sarmada, Harem, al-Dana, Killi, and al-Atareb has positive impacts on urban and human development in those areas.
He mentioned that the expansion eliminates informal housing, moves the area toward sustainable and safe housing, and implements infrastructure in a technical and studied manner that conforms to the terrain of the region.
This helps identify locations for commercial professions and other professions and move industrial professions out of residential areas, grouping them in industrial cities capable of evolving over time.
It also includes monitoring the building process and directing towards the construction of safe and earthquake-resistant buildings, especially after the large defect revealed by buildings that collapsed due to the earthquake on February 6, 2023, according to what al-Ali told Enab Baladi.
Al-Ali pointed to the urban regulation benefitting all society segments, as the property owner benefits when his property enters within the zoning plan because its price increases. Those looking for housing will find it at an acceptable price, in addition to preserving agricultural lands from construction and directing towards building on rocky lands that are only suitable for construction.
Evacuation of IDP camps
In the areas where the Salvation Government proposed zoning plans, there are dozens of camps for displaced and evacuated people, whose tents have become their only deteriorating shelter for years, failing to protect against the heat of summer and the cold of winter in the midst of bleak economic and living conditions.
Zakaria Fares, one of the displaced residing in a camp around the town of Sarmada, considered that the plan serves a specific segment of society – the owners of commercial projects and properties. Many camps suffered damage from the expulsion, including his own, as the land built with tents by the displaced will be evacuated without finding fundamental solutions to the camp residents’ issues.
He mentioned to Enab Baladi that the expansion of the zoning plan and the development of infrastructure and urban planning is a positive indication of development and reconstruction. However, there is a more crucial problem, which is the existence of more than two million people living in displacement camps.
Fares pointed out that camp residents need solutions, such as housing them in places that preserve their dignity. Besides, living in congested cement blocks of no more than 35 square meters does not suit human dignity.
Fares sees the priority lies in finding safe and suitable housing for camp residents instead of spending money on developing border cities and building commercial markets, as people’s conditions are difficult.
Currently, northwest Syria houses 4.5 million people, 4.1 million of whom need assistance, 3.3 million are suffering from food insecurity, 2.9 million are internally displaced, and two million live in camps, according to the United Nations, while local statistics suggest there are 5.5 to 6 million people.
Abdul Karim al-Omar, a resident of al-Atareb city, commented on the zoning plan announced by the Salvation Government for the city as an old and not new plan. It was issued in 2011 during the regime era, and there was a dispute against it, which was “not adopted” at the time. The regime’s government at that time failed to expropriate land or open roads.
There is a prevailing understanding among the residents of al-Atareb that the Salvation Government does not intend to expropriate or implement the plan due to the inability to “compensate the people” affected by implementing the plan, including those whose homes were adversely affected becoming gardens or roads, according to al-Omar.
He noted that the plan was placed in 2011, and the Salvation Government recently announced it without considering the construction built over a decade and the transgressions on the plan.
Many residents did not pay attention to the importance of the plan, especially since there are fees for the objection, which are ten US dollars (approximately 325 Turkish lira).
Residents of the city of al-Atareb have been demanding for months the return of service institutions and the economic, social, and administrative weight to the city. Activists launched a campaign titled “No to the Marginalization of Al-Atareb,” yet their demands remain unanswered.
Abdul Karim al-Omar considered that the city of al-Atareb has many priorities beyond the zoning plan, pointing to the “marginalization” of the city’s institutions, whether the courts or the real estate registry, as these are institutions not present in al-Atareb, increasing the burden on citizens.
He said that centralizing institutions in other cities harms the residents of al-Atareb, especially regarding travel costs to government centers in al-Dana and Termanin, noting that no explanation has been provided for the objection mechanism to the zoning plan.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Kanour, a civil activist in al-Atareb city, told Enab Baladi that the zoning plan issue is part of the scheme of levying fictional taxes and money collection methods.
He mentioned that suffering from governance issues and the legal aspect is present, as laws impose mechanisms for their presence and objection. Ways of interacting with the authorities and the absence of administrative courts to resort to in case of power abuse by those ruling the area, in addition to the overlap of power in legislating, adjudicating, and executing laws, render these decisions illegitimate.
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