Wednesday, February 11, 2009

At The Cost Of The Coast

If this report from El Mundo is anything to go by, Spain's construction boom could be in for a hard time in front of the European Parliament. Too late, of course. However, they have brushed aside attempts by the PSOE and PP to dilute the conclusions of a report that is going to go before the Parliament. According to the report in El Mundo one of the recommendations will be that European funding should be linked to good practice in construction. That would hurt if it ever happened. Meanwhile last week saw reports of a change in the Ley de Costas, the law introduced with the intention of controlling development on Spain's coastline. What makes the proposed change curious is that it is being implemented as part of legislation on an entirely different matter concerning maritime navigation. This appears to have been done to avoid attracting attention towards a modification of the law with serious consequences.

The law was originally introduced in 1988, but for most of its life it has been ignored. Before it could be applied in any realistic sense the task of delineating the public domain parts of the coastline had to be carried out. This is a highly sensitive job as it is the basis for determining where new building can be permitted, and which existing buildings are now covered by the restrictions of the law. Work on this job has only really taken off since 2004, and quite significant progress was made in the first term of Zapatero's government. The result of this has been that many property owners have found that their homes by the coast fall inside what is now regarded as the public domain. The current law prevents these homes from being sold, and they are occupied by the owners under a concession from the Spanish state with the intention that they will eventually be demolished.

However, now the government seems to be proposing that owners of homes built before 1988 will be allowed to sell their properties, something which will greatly appreciated by those who bought homes by the beach without knowing that a law would ever be introduced, but which in the process destroys the efforts to recover for public use areas that should never have been constructed in the first place. It looks as if the government has lost its appetite for the task. The Ley de Costas, imperfect and mistreated though it may be, is in the end the only legal obstacle that can prevent end to end concreting of the Spanish coastline.

It's not just the Ley de Costas which is an issue affecting illegal construction. The worst thing of all is a system which allows thousands of illegal dwellings to be constructed and sold to people who are under the impression for the most part that the property they are buying is legal. In the case of Marbella alone in more recent years, we are talking about tens of thousands of homes that have been constructed illegally. The most likely outcome in these cases is that almost all of these homes will be legalised in return for the constructors providing the municipality with a bit of their excess land. This is a solution that is obviously satisfactory for the owners of the properties, but which effectively ends up rewarding the companies who built the illegal homes in the first place for their bad behaviour.

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