The Telegraph 14 9 2011: My solutions to the expat Spanish property scandal

Maura Hillen, president of an expat action group, explains the major property issues faced by Britons in Andalucia – and what the Spanish government must do to fix the problem.

Maura Hillen with her husband John outside their home in Almanzora, a region in which there are more than 12,000 'illegal' properties

6:11PM BST 14 Sep 2011

Entering the Andalucian property market is like entering a minefield. Some will emerge unscathed and others will step on the unexploded bomb. There is no reliable map to guide you.

The tripwire for the unlucky is a poorly-policed system for urban planning and land management, which has resulted in an estimated 300,000 illegal buildings in this region of Spain alone.

The consequences of owning an illegal property are many and varied, ranging from unexpected and expensive urbanisation costs to land grab, court proceedings, fines, denial of access to basic services or in the worst case scenario, demolition of your property.

Since the problem emerged over a decade ago, the regional government has made efforts to cauterize the wound. It has introduced new regulations which attempt to ensure that mistakes are not repeated. However, it has thus far failed to effectively tackle the stockpile of illegal housing which continues to stink up the market place.

Its latest legal manoeuvre, a draft decree, describes a complex, sometimes ambiguous, lengthy and expensive solution which fails to bring any immediate relief to those facing demolition or denied access to basic services.

More decisive action is required in my view. The market demands it and the homeowners desperately need it.

As president of AUAN (Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora, NO), an association of some 700 British homeowners who have become trapped in this mess, I have a fairly detailed perspective on the problem and its possible solutions. I believe that the following should be done.

Change the law

The genie is out of the bottle and cannot be returned or ignored. The regional government must create a complete and up-to-date legal framework to deal with illegal constructions. This requires changes to the planning laws, rather than clarification of its finer details via various decrees.

For example, current planning law does not recognise the existence of a house in the countryside unless it is associated with farming or is more than 25 years old. This does not conform to the needs of rural communities, the demands of the market or the current reality of homes in the countryside.

Current planning law does not permit the segregation of a rural parcel of land to create a building plot. In reality, such parcels exist in large numbers, and must be dealt with to solve pressing problems with title to land and the property on it.

Introduce interim measures

Realistically, a properly-ordered solution will take years to implement. In the meantime, prosecutors are obligated to seek demolition of illegal properties and service providers are obligated to deny access to basic services such as electricity and water, creating untenable situations for the homeowner. Interim legal measures are required whilst fair and just solutions are put in place.

Remove planning powers from small town councils

In my experience small councils lack the funding and the technical expertise to prepare complicated town plans. There is also the frequently irresistible temptation to rezone the land of friends and family as lucrative building land at the expense of the wider community. A centralised function would create economies of scale and be more impartial.

Act decisively against illegal construction

It is easy to find examples of continued illegal construction. There are less than 50 planning inspectors in Andalucia for a land mass of 33,694 square miles. The complicated intermingling of politics, business, wealth and favours in small Spanish towns makes it unlikely that such activities will be reported. Citizens alerting the authorities to illegal construction need a means to protect their anonymity.


Create a fund to compensate those whose homes have been demolished through failings in the system rather than any wrongdoing on the part of the unsuspecting homeowners. Divert money from marketing campaigns for this purpose. It will do more good.

The government of Andalucia has complete control over planning matters within its borders. This gives them the power to amend the law to solve the problem. One can only hope that they heed the demand for change not only from Spanish nationals who are similarly affected and who will have their say in the coming elections, but also from the thousands of foreign homeowners who were encouraged to settle here only for their investment to be wiped out and their dreams shattered.

If Spain wishes to remain the premier choice for European retirees and to bring in much needed new investment, it needs to make changes that will offer the security demanded by purchasers. If it continues to ignore the mistakes of the past or papers over the cracks with piecemeal legislation, consumers and the property industry as a whole will continue to be badly served.

Telegraph Expat's Spanish Planning Scandal campaign is supporting the thousands of expats who have been affected by the illegal homes crisis in Spain. You can find all the latest news on the situation – and place a pin telling your story on our interactive map -


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Diario Montañes 2 9 2011: Cantabria - La Fiscalia cuestiona la ley...

La Fiscalía cuestiona la ley que permite legalizar viviendas condenadas al derribo


DIARIO MONTAÑÉS* : La Fiscalía de Cantabria ha puesto en entredicho la reforma legal que permite legalizar algunas de las urbanizaciones con sentencia de derribo, porque puede generar «inseguridad jurídica», un efecto contrario al que pretendía el legislador cuando la aprobó por unanimidad de todos los grupos políticos en julio de 2010. Esta iniciativa parlamentaria fue acompañada de otra, la llamada Ley de Derribos, que posibilitaba indemnizar a los propietarios de viviendas ilegales antes de proceder a su demolición, texto cuya constitucionalidad ha cuestionado el Tribunal Superior, que ha elevado una consulta al Alto Tribunal.

Con ambas leyes el Parlamento pretendía dar una salida a las 663 viviendas que hay en Cantabria afectadas por una sentencia de demolición. Hasta ahora se conocían las dudas de los jueces sobre uno de los textos. La fiscal superior de Cantabria, María Teresa Calvo, nunca se había pronunciado en público al respecto, a pesar de que la Memoria Fiscal ya había sido difundida en parte el pasado mes de junio a través de los medios de comunicación.

Ha sido una pregunta del portavoz regionalista, Rafael de la Sierra, formulada a Calvo en su comparencia, la que ha desvelado los reparos de la Fiscalía al texto legal. En la Memoria, a la que ha tenido acceso este periódico, la Fiscalía no entra a valorar la política de protección ambiental de los organismos legislativos, pero muestra su preocupación por la iniciativa que permite legalizar algunas urbanizaciones, al crear «inseguridad jurídica».

De la Sierra pidió a la fiscal superior una «aclaración» sobre el motivo de una afirmación «tan negativa», y quiso saber si en el año de vigencia que tiene la norma se ha producido algún caso de inseguridad jurídica. La respuesta de Calvo fue lacónica. Se limitó a decir que alude a «conceptos jurídicos indeterminados que a veces pueden ser un elemento distorsionador a la hora de enfocar una determinada conducta». Tras la comparecencia, en una reunión de café, los parlamentarios obtuvieron más explicaciones.

El texto normativo (Ley de Medidas Urgentes en Materia de Ordenación del Territorio y Urbanismo) fue aprobado con el apoyo de los tres grupos políticos. Su objetivo era que los ayuntamientos adaptaran sus planeamientos urbanísticos al Plan de Ordenación del Litoral (POL), circunstancia que los diputados aprovecharon para evitar la demolición de viviendas que creaban un impacto sobre el paisaje y que, por situaciones sobrevenidas motivadas por cambios en el entorno, eran susceptibles de ser legalizadas. La mayor parte de ellas se sitúan en los municipios de Piélagos y Argoños.

Peritos independientes
En su intervención, la fiscal superior de Cantabria reclamó la constitución de un cuerpo de peritos especializados vinculados a la Fiscalía en los casos de delitos contra el medio ambiente y ordenación del territorio, ya que al resultar imputados representantes de los ayuntamientos, se necesita la colaboración de arquitectos independientes.
El portavoz del PRC, Rafael de la Sierra, pidió también una aclaración sobre este asunto, ya que podía ponerse en duda «la independencia de los funcionarios». Calvo aseguró que la expresión ha podido ser «desafortunada», pero que en ningún momento se ha puesto en duda la independencia del funcionario público. «Se trata de crear equipos de trabajo dentro de la figura del fiscal instructor, que requiere una investigación diferentes», matizó. Los grupos políticos elogiaron también el trabajo de los fiscales.

* Diario Montaés - 2.09.11
Foto: Argoños (Cantabria), urbanización Las Llamas con sentencia de derribo (archivo) - eldiariomontanes.es