Illegal building problems in La Axarquia, Andalucia

An article over the weekend in the Spanish daily EL Pais, entitled ‘La Axarquia, a building and whitewash catastrophe’, shed light on the urban planning and illegal building problems in the La Axarquia region of the Costa del Sol, where hundreds of foreigners, especially Britons, have unwittingly purchased illegally-built homes.

La Axarquia is a county of 29 coastal and interior municipalities in eastern part of Malaga province, and is also part of the Costa del Sol. The number of illegal properties in La Axarquia depends upon who you talk to: 10,000 says the Regional government of Andalucia (Junta), and 21,500 say local environmentalists. The villages a little bit inland are the worst affected.

Illegal constructions on rural land have surged in the last decade, driven largely by demand from British buyers for a life of sunshine in the countryside. For example, the village of Alcaucin has gone from having 1,015 properties in 1998 to 1,538 in 2007, an expansion of 52%. Many of the new properties built in the region over the last decade do not have utility connections.

Uncontrolled urban development has degraded the region, perhaps irreversibly, says the article, and it has all taken palace before the very eyes of the authorities, who have been unable, or unwilling, to intervene. Many small municipalities lacked the resources to put a stop to illegal building, whilst local mayors found that giving free rein to building was a vote winner amongst locals, who could sell their small rural holdings, formerly worth very little, to British buyers for hundreds of thousands of Euros.

Many properties have been built with planning permission that exploits a loophole for agricultural housing, though local farmers now appear to have names like Ronald, Terry, Michael and Patrick.

In one case, dozens of properties have been illegally built on protected land around the reservoir of Viñuela, feeding sewage into the province’s biggest reservoir.

Incompetence and delays by the Junta in finalising definitive urban master plans have exacerbated the problem. Hundreds of properties built on rural land are excluded from the plans, and at risk of demolition. As a concession to local authorities that will have to deal with the problem, the Junta agreed to set up a body to evaluate the legalisation of 85% of illegally built properties in return for compensation from owners. However, nothing has been done to this end.

Despite the problems, all local political parties agree that construction – until recently the engine of the local economy – must be allowed to continue.

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