The island of Crete is one of the main tourist destinations in Greece, as it receives the 1/5 of the tourists visiting Greece and the population of the island increases by five times each year. The touristic industry is based on the “sun and sea” product and the majority of the activities is concentrated on the north coast. The proposed touristic investment is planned to be implemented in the north east part of the island, close to Siteia. The wider area presents low touristic development and a small percentage of the population works at the sector. This happens mainly due to the isolation of the area from the island transportation networks and centres. Thus, the wider area presents important environmental and archaeological sites and natural landscapes. The majority of the population declares agriculture as primary occupation.
The area where the planned investment would be implemented belongs to the charitable religious institution “Panagia Akrotiriani” that was founded by the Metropolis of Ierapytna and Sitia and the Monastery of Toplou in 1991. Although, parts of the area were disputed between the State and the Monastery and the Court allocated 100 hect to the State. The institution’s goal is the financing of its charitable activities by the development of the area. An international tender was launched and an English company was selected. The final Convention was signed in 1998 and foreseen the land rent for 80 years. The project included six touristic villages, 3 golf courses, conference center, etc. In February 2007 the Company gets the approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
In the meantime (1991-2007), the area was registered to NATURA 2000 Network, mainly due to the Vai Palm Forest. The Spatial Plan for the island of Crete was approved and the Special Spatial Plan for Tourism was prepared.
In April 2007, Cretan environmental organizations and local society groups (294 stakeholders and individuals) filed an action before the Council of State asking for the annulment of the EIA, following by two supplementary files within the next few months.
Several discussions, events and a conference were organized by local environmental groups and the planned project was discussed thoroughly several times in the City Council of Itanos and the Prefectural Council of Lasithi. In parallel, hundreds of articles and reports were published, revealing the environmental problems that the project will provoke (creation of golf courses in semi-arid areas, distortion of the special character of the area, building close or even within NATURA 2000 Network area, etc). In addition to this, a great argumentation was developed questioning the supposed positive social and economic aspects of the investment, as it is presented by the company and the institution, as well as the selection of the concrete Company. Left political parties tabled parliamentary questions concerning the legality of the processes. [1, 2, 3]. The struggle took a national dimension, connected with other movements against land grabbing.
In 2010, the Council of State rejected the EIA and at that time it seemed that the project was totally cancelled. . However, in 2012, the planned investment was modified and renamed “ITANOS GAIA”. It was included in the law of strategic investments (fast track) and the Company got the permission to prepare the Special Plan of Spatial Development for Strategic Investments. The inclusion of the investment in the fast track law means that the environmental legislation could be overridden and the company could ask for funding by development funds. According to the legal framework, its goal is "to achieve specific economic or development purpose, able to generally assist the country's economy, but also to contribute to the immediate response of the present financial crisis". In November 2014 , the Council of State approved the Special Plan of Spatial Development for Strategic Investment “Itanos Gaia”.