Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Send In The Bulldozers

As I’m going to the Canary Islands for a few days over Easter, it seems an appropriate time to post on one of the latest Spanish construction scandals to emerge. This one concerns Lanzarote, following a decision by the supreme court in the Canary Islands to cancel the licences of some hotels (in Spanish here). The use of the word “some” here is really a deliberate understatement because the number of hotels declared illegal is actually 22, and they include some of the most luxurious accommodation on the island. The total number of rooms in the hotels is 7721, so at an average of roughly 350 rooms per hotel we are hardly talking about a few small bed and breakfasts.

The hotels are illegal because they were built in defiance of a moratorium on new tourist construction that was introduced in 2000. In some cases they are also illegal because they break the Ley de Costas which is supposed to prevent construction in public domain areas bordering the sea. Two municipalities on Lanzarote decided that such restrictions didn’t apply to them, and it seems that several well known hotel companies such as Melia also decided that the law is just for the little people. Amazingly, the European Union did its bit by contributing over €30 million of funds supposed to be for deprived areas to assist these big companies in breaking the law.

Comparisons are already being made with Marbella, where tens of thousands of illegal dwellings were constructed before action was finally taken against those running the town. The problem arises of what to do about such constructions once they have been built and are being used. I find it impossible to believe that no power exists to halt such illegal building or that the authorities can claim to be unaware of what is happening. In Lanzarote, it has been a private foundation that has done much of the work to get these licences cancelled.

Sadly, there is already talk of adopting the Marbella solution to the problem which consists of the developers compensating the local authorities by handing over other land they own to public control. I really hope they don’t do this in this case. With Marbella it’s a difficult situation because many people will have bought flats or houses in good faith believing them to be legal, but in this case it concerns hotels being run by the people who built them. If they are allowed to get away with just handing over a piece of useless scrubland to the local authority as compensation then they will carry on building illegal hotels because there is no great loss involved in doing so. Lanzarote is a biosphere reserve, but won’t deserve the title for much longer if this kind of operation is permitted. Send in the bulldozers at the cost of those who did the construction, it’s the only way the people involved will learn that they can’t do what they like.

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