Media

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Rapid development at Bansko and Sunny Beach resulted in an over-supply of lower-priced apartments, putting a severe strain on local infrastructure. An estimated 85 per cent of UK investors bought properties off-plan without having visited Bulgaria.

On arrival in the country many were disappointed by mediocre construction quality and local developers" lack of concern for the environment.
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[url">www.corpwatch.org :
"A new ski complex is being constructed in the environmentally sensitive Seven Lakes region of the snow-capped Rila mountains of south-western Bulgaria. Yet authorities have not been able to produce any planning permits nor have the investors produced any documentation of who is funding the construction."

Detailed article on the problem could be found here: [url">http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14882
Feat. cartoon by Khalil Bendib
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SOFIA: Every day ex-communist Bulgaria proudly announces yet another foreign investment project for a new shopping mall, a golf course or a residential complex.

The real estate boom has created new jobs and the government boasts an economic growth of 6 percent a year. But investing in construction alone cannot bring long-term prosperity to the poorest European Union member.

Bulgaria’s problems, analysts say, include underinvestment in infrastructure and manufacturing, a large grey economy, eroding education, growing consumer indebtedness, crippling inflation and a ballooning current account deficit at a time of global credit jitters.

More at: [url">http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2007/12/26/story_26-12-2007_pg5_34
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On December 12 during the opening of his first exhibition in Bulgaria, held in Sofia’s Gallery for Foreign Art, architect Sir Norman Foster also talked about his other reason for visiting the country. His firm Foster + Partners, in co-operation with a Bulgarian investor, has developed a project (pictured) for a residential village in Karadere, one of the Black Sea beaches not yet touched by infrastructure developments.

This is one of the last territories still covered with forests on the Bulgarian seacoast on which construction has not yet been carried out. The site was included in the Natura 2000 environmental protected zones list according to the European Union Wild Birds and Habitats Directives. There is a thriving native wild boar population that is not aggressive and can be observed by visitors from a short distance. There are various other species of animals, including sand mice and many birds.
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Bulgaria set up a special body that is to work for equalizing the real
estate market standards of the country to those of the other EU member
states, an independent branch organization announced Friday.

The new committee is to regulate the activities of the real estate
agencies and will help to diminish grey economy in the sphere, chair of
the National Real Property Association Lachezar Iskrov said.

Head of the regulatory body was elected Asen Makedonov, who is manager
of one of the biggest real estate companies in the country.

According to experts, Bulgaria leads the Balkans on the real estate
market by offering some of the best property investments in Europe.
High quality residential complexes are available at low prices, in
areas that are very attractive to foreign tourists.

However, every year the authorities are signaled over more than 20
frauds related to sales and purchases of real estate properties.

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BULGARIA, ROMANIA, SLOVENIA RECOMMENDED FOR SKI HOLIDAYS
The eastern European destinations of Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romania
have been recommended to British tourists looking for a bargain ski
holiday.

Bulgaria"s Borovets resort is the cheapest ski holiday destination,
with prices for equipment and accommodation half of what travellers
would find in Vail, Colorado, according to Post Office Travel Services.

Poiana Brasov in Romania and Kranjska Gora in Slovenia were also found
to be "significantly cheaper" than well-known resorts in Switzerland,
France and Austria.

Helen Warburton, head of travel services at Post Office, warned,
however, that price is not the only thing people think about when
planning a ski holiday.

"It"s important for ski holidaymakers to pick a resort that suits their
expertise and matches their expectations," she said.

"For those people and for bargain hunters, Bulgaria and Romania
represent excellent value."

However, those wanting to travel further afield can always try Canada,
where resorts such as Whistler regularly entice all types of winter
sports lovers.

The news comes after the Association of British Travel Agents reported
that France had overtaken Austria as the most popular skiing
destination in Europe.

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MANAGERS BUY OUT BULGARIAN REAL ESTATE FIRM
Bulgarian real estate firm Landmark said on Monday it was sold to
Bridgecorp, the company owned by Landmark"s two managers, Richard
McDonald and Tanya Kosseva-Boshova, for EUR 210 M.

Henry Gwyn-Jones, Co-founder and managing director of Landmark,
together with the other shareholders in the company, Icelandic mogul
Thor Bjorgolfsson and Altima Partners, sold the firm in an auction
organised by Credit Suisse Securities, London.

The deal is the first of its kind in Bulgaria, where a real estate firm
is bought out by its managers.

Founded in 2004, Landmark"s portfolio includes 22 properties in
Bulgaria and one in Istanbul, Turkey. The firm owns several office
buildings in Sofia and Varna, as well as the land on which a gold
course will be built.

In February, the company announced plans to invest EUR 80 M in projects
this year and bought the Porsche Centre in Sofia for EUR 13 M a month
later.



BULGARIAN HOUSEHOLDS ASSETS GREATER THAN LIABILITIES - UNICREDIT
Bulgarian households remain net savers, with their assets still greater
than liabilities, despite the strong growth of lending in the country,
Italian banking group Unicredit said in a report on household wealth in
eastern Europe, made available on Sunday.

Household financial assets increased by a real 20% on an annual basis
in June 2007 and the banking group expects the wealth accumulation in
the sector to maintain its momentum for a fourth straight year.

The main reasons for the strong growth, outlined by the bank, are the
convergence of incomes, an improving level of job creation, rising real
estate prices and remittances by Bulgarians living abroad.

Even though liabilities grew at a faster rate on the back of the credit
boom in the country, a large part of the retail loans were channelled
in the acquisition of new residential property or renovation of
existing housing, which in combination with a massive rise in the real
estate prices, further boosted the growth of real assets in the
household sector.

The introduction of a 10% flat Introduction of a 10 % flat personal
income tax and a cutback in the social insurance contribution rate will
positively affect both households" disposable incomes and their
propensity to save, with household financial assets set to reach 60% of
GDP in 2009, compared to 51% in 2007, the report claimed.

Currency and deposits remain the preferred form of savings, accounting
for 79% of their total, the highest rate recorded in the 14 countries
covered by the report.

Securities and shares accounted for 8% and pension funds assets another
7%, with the rest spread between mutual funds and insurance technical
reserves.

In terms of loans, consumer credits accounted for 43% and mortgage
loans for another 37%.

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THE morning sky outside my window was gray with rain — the last thing I wanted to see at Bansko, the biggest ski resort in Bulgaria. A dispiriting mist hid the half-built hotels and condos that lay beyond the ugly Glazne River, and the Pirin Mountains were all but invisible. The town had been warm and wet the past two days, and conditions up on the slopes below the roughly 9,000-foot Todorka peak hadn"t been much better. I closed the curtains with a sigh and gave myself the day off.
ENDS Europe DAILY 2438, 28/11/07
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CONCERNED NGOs STRUGGLE AGAINST ILLEGAL SKI-AREA

On October 27, a group of thugs stopped an informative action at Rila National Park by Za Zemiata, a civil society for the protection of the Bulgarian environment. Armed with guns and knives, the men arrived en masse to the Panichishte Visitor Information Center. Here, members of the group and concerned citizen gave information to passing cars about illegal ski area development occurring in and around park boundaries. They also tried to halt the entrance of construction equipment to the area, although the small group of environmentalists was no match for the passing bulldozers and machinery.

“We’ll kill you,” shouted one aggressor, brandishing his weapon and threatening the group. Fortunately, no violence occurred as the action’s participants were forced to a nearby parking lot. Police arrived shortly after, without being called. Nothing was said to the attackers. Instead, environmentalists were warned, “Next time, they [the police"> might show up to late.” The threat to Za Zemiata’s action was clear. The police helped the thugs to force participants back into their vehicles. In the process, one activist received a concussion.

I arrived in Bulgaria just four days prior. Local environmental activists had warned me that the situation in Bulgaria was critical, however, I was in no way prepared for what happened at the Panichishte visitor center. The action was organized to protest the Ministry of the Environment’s decision to exclude the Rila Buffer Zone from the international biodiversity network, NATURA 2000. Despite ample scientific evidence for its inclusion, the area did not appear on the final list. Instead, members of the Environmental Ministry maintained that developers’ interests were of ‘national priority,’ apparently taking precedence over European laws to prevent biodiversity loss.

This decision follows a long list of environmental oversights in the Rila Mountain area. In summer 2007 construction of what is being hailed as “a new mega-ski area” began in the Rila Mountains. The development occurs without a concession agreement or proper permit. The Park’s chalets and lodges, allegedly acquired under coercion from a nearby tourist cooperative, are being transformed into hotels and condominiums. Paths marked as trails on the National Park map are now roads. Trucks speed down from the mountaintops, hauling away timber cut to create ski slopes.

The construction project is the initiative of Rila Sport, an affiliate of the offshore firm Real Stone Trading Business Corporation. Tihomir Trendafilov, chairman of the board, refuses to name to consortium of investors that he says, “will spend100 million euro developing Rila.” Local support for the project comes from mayor of the nearby municipality, Sasho Ivanov. His municipal government sold 200 decares of land to “Rila Sport” in 2006 for a supposed 2,8 million BGN. Unusually, the land was only offered to “Rila Sport” and not at public auction. Additionally the sold areas, bordering the National Park, were never assessed and the terms of the sale was never made public.

Rila National Park is a certified PAN Park. It achieved this internationally recognized, independent standard for protected areas and development of sustainable tourism in 2005. Of the 81,046 total hectares in the Park, 16,222 are wilderness. Other areas of the park are zoned for sustainable activities and include important cultural monuments like the Rila Monastery. The National Park accomplished this under the directorship of Vasil Petrov, an advocate of ecologically sound tourism. He was fired from his post in early 2007. Many speculate that the cause of his removal was his opposition to the ski area development.

Rila National Park personnel expressed uncertainty about future plans. “It’s a big problem,” said a local ranger. “Before, there was hiking. Now, Jeeps!” The ski area development is in no way accounted for by the park’s management plan. Projects around the area, like the holiday apartments in Rila Lake advertised by Top Bulgarian Properties, are planned in regions formerly part of the NATURA 2000 network for biodiversity. Potential foreign buyers are largely unaware that this development is in protected areas.

This fall, Bulgarian Ministry of the Environment fined the local municipality 5,000 euros for illegal road construction. Katerina Rakovska, protected areas officer for WWF in Bulgaria, describes this action as the weakest possible sanction. “All of the projects are going forward without necessary permission,” she says.

LET NATURE REMAIN IN BULGARIA, a coalition of 17 concerned NGOs, demands a full halt to the ski area construction. “All that we ask for is compliance with the Bulgarian environmental laws and inclusion of Rila Buffer in the Natura 2000 network of protected territories. Authorities have taken no action against the illegal logging, ongoing construction of roads and chair lifts near Panichishte,”explains Tsveta Hristova from Za Zemiata.

To support this struggle, you are invited to get involved through forthenature.org and sign the petition at http://forthenature.org/petitions.





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BANSKO, Bulgaria, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The citizens of Bansko, a ski resort in Bulgaria"s Pirin mountains, are selling their land with gusto to buy fancy cars and replace communist-era furniture.

The same is true of other mountain resorts, as well as Bulgaria"s Black Sea coast, as foreigners snap up cheap second homes, sending the price of resort and farming land to 250 euros a square metre from just 20 euros five years ago.

But this growth comes at a cost. The once idyllic little town with cobblestone streets and traditional architecture, which in the 1980s was popular among skiiers and hikers from the former Soviet bloc, has changed beyond recognition.