Thursday, April 01, 2010

Illegal Properties - The Latest Word

Well, let's see: Spain has consistently ignored the subject of the tens of thousands of illegal homes sold, mostly, to northern Europeans and denied any responsibility for the fall-out. In fact, the subject is barely touched on by the media here who are all beholden to larger interests. The result has been, in a time of deep recession and job-loss, another door to prosperity firmly shut.
The Northern European homeowners fight quietly back. We have associations starting with the AUN, the ‘Abusos Urbanisticos ¡No!’, which is based in the Valencian Community and which began as a result of ‘Land Grab’, the process whereby a powerful developer can oblige a smaller land-owner to cede part of his property for urbanisation and, worse still, to pay a share of the improvements, which means sewerage, pavements, public lighting, parks and so on, making a fortune for some at the expense of others. This is a kind of forced expropriation for entirely commercial ends. The man who began the AUN, an organisation now with thousands of concerned members, was (as usual) a quietly retired individual who found himself a victim of ‘Land Grab’ on his home in Benissa, in Alicante.
In Almería, the AUAN was created to help face another property problem, where homes were built, marketed and sold: all with their paperwork apparently in order (at least, according to the promoters, the lawyers, the notaries and the town halls; which sounds good enough for anyone). But not good enough, apparently, for the Junta de Andalucía’s housing goons, who began a few years back by declaring an increasing number of homes – all owned by Europeans who had moved here to retire peacefully – to be ‘illegal’. They then chose just one of these ‘ten thousand illegal dwellings’ located in and around Eastern Almería, and knocked it down in January 2008 in an act which crashed around the world, appearing on British, German and Norwegian TV, in the British press, on the BBC World Radio (I was heard talking on this subject by people who know me in both Boston and Miami). The Junta’s aggression was covered in places as far apart as Australia and Bulgaria and this injustice even interrupted Robert Mugabe’s violent elections in Zimbabwe. This single case of the demolition of a home owned and lived in by simple retired folk has without doubt been felt around the world. The Junta de Andalucia’s experts in negative promotion nevertheless managed to trump this by declaring a further eight (later nine) homes in Albox (apparently cherry-picked at random) to be flattened in the early future, a notice which they issued to the owners (all British once again) on Christmas Eve last. The news once again thundered around the world and even more people, watching or reading this fresh horror, decided not to invest in Almería, a once-wealthy province which now enjoys the highest unemployment rate in Spain.
These homes, whether ‘illegal’ or not, are not cluttering up the coast, but are located inland, in small and often moribund municipalities where the young people are moving away and the small industries or agriculture of the past are often closed down. There is no tourism, for obvious reasons. No hotels, no beaches, no soaring monuments to the ingenuity of Man. They are just small pueblos where hard-working and tired northern Europeans can go to retire. This is Europe’s answer to Southern Florida. Each of those homes bought supposes a good chunk of money for the local community: and it also means that funds will be being transferred into the local banks from abroad every month, and from there into the local businesses. What’s not to like?
The AUAN, based in Albox, has been joined by the AULAN, based in Mojácar. This newer and smaller group helps out with similar cases to the AUAN, together with the problems that have arisen thanks to the new coastal laws. In essence, the beach used to have to be kept clear, not for the benefit of the ecologists or the tourists, but for the military. Clean beaches give a good field of fire, and one never knows when one might be invaded. Then the rules grew as this was taken over by the Central Government (coastal municipalities do not have control over the coast itself which ‘belongs’ to the State). In short, homes which are deemed to be too close to the ever-expanding coastal-zone, will fall under the increasingly complex ‘ley de costa’.
In other parts of the south and east of Spain, owners have had to face these and other problems, and more associations have sprung up to help defend them. There is the SOHA (Save Our Homes Axarquía) – which held a demonstration in Málaga this past month; there’s the very active AULN in Lliber (Alicante) and the CFRA in Chiclana (where the state has agreed that homes will be legalised by having them ‘urbanised’ with truly massive costs going to the unfortunate home-owners). There are other groups in Murcia, Coín, Marbella and so on. Most of these various associations have now unified under a national federation, called the FAUN.
Indeed, beside the presence of the property-owners’ associations, there have been several demonstrations across southern Spain and visits and support from various MPs, ministers and Euro-deputies. Furthermore, we see some sympathetic coverage in certain local English-language newspapers and we have, of course, massive exposure on British TV (the latest program being a documentary broadcast on March 30th by the BBC). All of this being for the Junta de Andalucía (operated by the PSOE) – and presumably the Generalitat Valenciana (PP) – like water of a duck’s back.
In January, Marta Andreasen MEP publicly humiliated Zapatero at the opening of Spain’s six-month presidency in Brussels and she was back on subject on March 17th, speaking at the Málaga demonstration where she said that she would do everything in her power to cut EU funding to Spain while this iniquitous situation continued (based on a vote to this end organised by Margrite Auken twelve months earlier, but since quietly forgotten).
We should recall the comment of the angry PP spokesman Manuel García-Margallo in Brussels last year regarding the ‘Auken Report’ who said that 'the image offered by Ms Auken suggests that Spain is a banana republic'.
So, to soften the blow of what is now described as ‘100,000 illegal homes in Andalucía’ (Diario Sur: 18 March 2010), almost all owned by retired Europeans, the Junta de Andalucía has initiated a couple of slightly cynical initiatives – the first is the creation of an official cast-iron government-controlled real-estate agency called ‘Spanish Homes Network’ (the banks, don’t forget, have well over a million homes to dispose of) which sells only guaranteed legal homes (the State has in effect become a Real-Estate) and the second initiative is the recent announcement of a Spanish government agent to be incorporated into both the Alicante and the Málaga British consulates, which is, at the very least, a turn-up for the books.
Clearly, neither of these splendid ideas will do anything for the tens of thousands of aggrieved and frightened property owners who have already bought homes in Southern or Eastern Spain and who will, unfortunately (the Spanish legal system being what it is) have to wait in limbo, anxiously, for the rest of their lives.
But now, perhaps there is a way of shortening the wait ‘as each property, one after the other, is scrutinised’ by the Junta’s department of housing. And so it proves. The Junta de Andalucía has now approved a new 'regulation of urban discipline' the ‘Reglamento de Disciplina Urbanística de Andalucía’, which 'agglutinates all the rules of prevention, inspection and sanction' of constructions into one handy package.
It gives town halls the right (and the obligation) to demolish 'manifestly illegal' buildings within a month of the owner being advised, according to the buck-passing Juan Espadas, the housing tsar for the Junta de Andalucía, as the capacity of town halls will 'be re-enforced in urban discipline, since it was previously alleged that the ayuntamientos couldn't halt construction in non-urbanisable areas because the courts wouldn't allow it'. You see – it wasn’t us…
Finally, far from backing down as the economies of many interior towns in Almería, Málaga and Cadiz are dismantled by the Junta’s erratic policies, Juan Espadas said that the British property-owners ‘should not attempt to pressure the Junta de Andalucía’ – presumably with more demonstrations, car-stickers and interviews with foreign-dog TV channels and journalists. He asked instead for 'tranquillity and patience'. Lots and lots of patience.
Something that President of the Andalucían Community Griñán doesn’t have. He fired Espadas on March 20th as part of an abrupt re-shuffle, and has passed the responsibility over to the ex-IU mayoress of Cordoba, now PSOE Independent Rosa Aguilar Rivero. No doubt we’ll soon be seeing what she’s got to say.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Thanks for this summary. Keep it up. Hopefully the economic penny will drop eventually.