Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted

Thousands of homeowners could have their beachside properties demolished under new plans by the Spanish Government to clear nearly 500 miles of coastline of illegal developments. Under the new initiative, to be unveiled formally tomorrow, Spain’s Socialist Government plans to pull down homes, chalets, hotels and swimming pools along a 776km (480mile) stretch of coastline.

The areas involved are those most popular with Britons, including the entire Mediterranean coast from Barcelona in the north to Marbella in the south, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, including Majorca.

Under 20-year-old legislation, Spanish beaches are public property and construction is banned within 100 metres (330ft) of the coastline. The law has been flouted widely by construction companies and local authorities, and bribery has been commonplace.

The Government refused yesterday to discuss the specifics of its plan, prompting confusion on all sides. An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, played down the effect on British homeowners. “We’re not talking about mass demolitions here,” he said. “It would be done on a case-by-case basis, and only in isolated cases.” The Government has also admitted that it must secure the consent of Spain’s powerful regional governments and the town halls for the plan to proceed.

Even before the latest initiative, many Britons had feared that their homes could be declared illegal by the courts and demolished. During the latest construction frenzy on the Spanish coasts, many developers went ahead without the proper permits, confident that they would be able to secure them later.

Critics say that this is just an election ruse by the Government to placate the environmental groups. It is suggested that the proposed €5million budget would be totally inadequate to carry out the scheme.

However, this plan, even if it never omes into fruition, will unnerve many potential buyers. The confidence of foreign investors has already been eroded by the controversial "land grab" law in Valencia and the massive corruption scandal that toppled the Marbella city government. This latest proposal could prove to be yet another nail in the coffin for builders.

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