Britain's Spanish Dream Homes Demolished
The story that has been unfolding in Andalucia over the last two years took an unexpected and devastating turn in January 2008 for a couple from the United Kingdom when their illegally built home was demolished. Other owners now fear that they may be next as the Ministry of Public Works took action to, as they saw it, restore the rule of law.
Innocent Expat RetireesThe frightening thing for other owners in the area, whose homes may be at risk, is that Len and Helen Prior had done nothing wrong. As far as they could find out, their home had been built legally, with all planning permissions and permits granted up front.
But what they didn't know, and couldn't really be expected to know, was that the permissions granted by the local planning authority should never have been granted, and were given out as a result of bribery and corruption on the part of developers, builders and local planning authorities. Although they had local paperwork, the paperwork at regional level had never been filed, since it would not have been approved.
Caught by SurpriseThe action surprised everyone, even the Priors' Spanish lawyer, who had assured them, right up until the moment the bulldozers arrived, that demolition was not going to happen. But sure enough, the utilities were turned off and the Priors were given two hours to collect their possessions and vacate the property. The Priors had emigrated completely, so with the loss of their home, on which they had spent £570,000 (or £350,000, depending on reports), left them with nothing to fall back on. Perhaps not surprisingly, 63-year-old Mr Prior was rushed to hospital after collapsing with a heart problem shortly after the demolition.
It seems strange to British people that the authorities should attack the innocent party in this quarrel, when clearly the developers and town planners were at fault, but it appears that they have deliberately decided on a policy of demolishing the homes and relying on the homeowners gaining restitution by chasing the developers through the Spanish courts.
Planning ComplexitiesWhen it comes to planning in Spain, there are a number of complex rules that can conflict with each other, some emanating from national governments, some from regional and others from local levels. One often-quoted restriction is that there should be no building within 100m of the beach, but that has been flouted in many areas, with reports that even Antonio Banderas' villa, right on the beach, is in line for demolition.
In 2006 a €250m planning fraud was uncovered in Marbella which resulted in more than 30,000 homes being built on land that should have been reserved for cultivation or kept as part of a green belt. In December 2007 in a group of five homes in Obeja, Cordoba was demolished in similar circumstances to the Priors'.
Damage Caused by JDAThe initiative taken against the Priors was driven by the Junta de Andalucia (JDA), a regional authority, who are enforcing laws granted in 2002 to put controls on building along the coastline. What they do not seem to care about is the pensioners they put out of a home, the bad publicity and the damage to an already frail Spanish housing market.
Most foreign property magazines, newspapers and other commentators are now warning overseas buyers off the Spanish market and that could do more damage in the long-term than the illegally built houses. Unless the JDA changes tack and goes after the villains of the piece rather than the innocent bystanders that situation can only get worse.