The construction and registration of buildings that do not meet licence and zoning regulations will be considered a violation of Article 50 in Turkey’s Constitution, and such offences will offer no possibility of pardon, Turkish President Erdoğan said during a TV broadcast on Wednesday.
Erdoğan’s announcement is a U-turn, previously he hailed the country’s construction amnesty a “problem solver” and “good news” for citizens.
Eight zoning amnesties have been issued during the 21 years of Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule. The extent of destruction caused by the 6 February earthquakes across 11 provinces was widely blamed on the loosening of construction regulations allowed under the amnesties.
In Istanbul alone there is approximately 220,000 buildings at risk, compromising 1.5 million independent building units of which 300,000 need urgent transformation, the President announced during the broadcast. He added that his government had begun to analyse the risk to structures built before 1999 (changes were made to regulations as a response to the İzmit earthquake that year), and that plans are in place to eliminate unhealthy building stock.
Despite promoting zoning amnesty as a “problem solver” in previous rallies and campaigns, last night Erdoğan spoke out against the principle of ostensibly legalising illegal constructions and stated that any such avoidance of regulations would be considered a catalogue crime in Article 50 of the Constitution.
In 2019 Erdoğan praised the “zoning peace” that legitimised unlicensed buildings, stating that it would solve construction problems for Turkish citizens. Now the President says that going forward the amnesty will be classified as an “unforgivable crime” and that there will be no leniency shown for those who have benefited from it.
Up to date zoning amnesty data, released by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Deputy Secretary General Dr Buğra Gökçe, shows that the number of building registration certificates issued throughout Turkey peaked in 2018. Under the amnesty now banished by Erdoğan, a total of 3,152,000 certificates were issued in 2018, of which 294,166 were issued in provinces hit in February’s earthquakes.
The concept of zoning peace involves reconciling the state and the citizen who owns an illegal building with the issue of a Building Registration Certificate. However, many illegal structures that have not had earthquake resistance measured are also registered under this amnesty. In particular, the scale of devastation seen in Kahramanmaraş demonstrates the danger that a “zoning peace” poses in the event of a natural disaster.
Both the long history of government endorsed side- stepping of construction regulations and Erdoğan’s recent denouncing of the practice have been criticised by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey, who reminded the President just how many lives have been lost under the amnesties.