Cement wall throttling Spanish coast increases 22% in 6 years

The Great Wall of China may be a big tourist attraction, but the Great Wall of Spain – the wall of ugly development along much of the Spanish coast – must surely bear a heavy responsibility for Spain’s declining popularity as a tourist destination.

A significant chunk of the cement wall throttling the Spanish coast was built during the last decade, and a new report, soon to be published, reveals quite how much the Spanish coast has been devastated by the recent property boom. The Spanish daily ‘El Pais’, which has seen a draft of the report from Spain’s National Geographic Institute (part of the Ministry of Development), reveals that the volume of built-up land within the first 2 kilometres of the Spanish coast increased by 22% in just 6 years to the end of 2005, twice as quickly as before.

That means that the natural environment of the Spanish coast – one of the country’s main tourist attractions – lost 140,000 square metres to the cement mixers EVERY SINGLE DAY during the 6 years analysed by the study. Put another way, in just 6 years, Spain covered in cement the equivalent of 25% of all the land urbanised in the preceding 2,000 years. Thanks to mindless over-development, once land has been built up, its attraction as a tourist resource is gone forever.

The area of land covered in cement grew by significantly more on the Mediterranean coast, where it increased by 23%, compared to 19% on the Atlantic coast.

As a result, 27,5% of Spain’s Mediterranean coast is now covered in cement, compared to 22% in 2000, and 16% in 1987.

If building continues at the same rate in future, every single square metre of the Spanish coast will be under cement by the year 2071, assuming rising sea levels haven’t got their first.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, many of the depressingly ugly new developments that have sprung up along the Spanish coast in the recent boom stand empty for most of the year. Spain has built “a wall of cement on the coast that is empty for most of the year,” says Carolina de Carvalho, a researcher at the Ministry of the Environment, quoted in the article.

The true situation is even more depressing. The Great Wall of Spain is a ghost town for 10 months of the year, but unbearably crowded in July and August.

Building on the coast increased the most in the provinces of Valencia, in the Valencian Community, and in Huelva, Andalucia, home to the Costa de la Luz. In both these provinces, the volume of built-up land on the shore increased by 50% in the period.

Looking at provinces as a whole, not just the coast, built-up land increased by 32% in Alicante (Costa Blanca), 58% in Murcia, and 134% in Castellon (Costa Azahar).

The Spanish coast is supposed to be protected by the 1988 ‘Ley de Costas’ or Coastal Law, but the law has failed, points out Juan López de Uralde, Director of Greenpeace in Spain. “They said that the coast was destroyed in the 70s, when they ruined La Manga of the Mar Menor and Benidorm. But it turned out not to be true. The present rate of construction is much greater than it was then.”

López de Uralde warns that there are still millions of square metres on the coast that have been reclassified as building land, and that are at risk of being developed when the market starts to pick up again.

“The coast is in terrible shape, and everyone does as they please,” Carlos Peña, from the Ministry of the Environment, told a recent conference. “The developers want to build it all, Greenpeace don’t want anyone to touch anything, and the fishermen want to fish it all. The end result is deplorable.”

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About Mark Stücklin

Mark Stücklin is a Barcelona-based property market analyst and consultant, and author of the 'Spanish Property Doctor' column in the Sunday Times (2005 - 2008). He can be reached by email on ms@spanishpropertyinsight.com.