Marbella under a cloud after Supreme Court strikes down town plan


The Spanish Supreme Court has struck down the revised town plan that Marbella passed in 2010 to bring order to the real estate chaos left after the corruption of the Gil-Roca years.

This is a big blow for Marbella’s property market and economy, and introduces enormous uncertainty for owners of properties that were legalised by the revised town plan of 2010, approved by both Marbella and Andalusia’s regional government in Seville (known as the Junta).

The local paper Sur says the Supreme Court decision leaves 16,500 homes in legal limbo, a nightmare for owners who thought their homes had been legalised by the 2010 revision.

Banana Beach, Marbella, illegal by any plan

Banana Beach, Marbella, illegal by any plan

The Supreme Court declared the revised plan null and void yesterday for reasons such as failing to comply with environment protection laws, and the lack of an economic viability study, but mainly because the purpose of a town plan should not be to legalise planning infractions, explained the judgments.

Whilst recognising the laudable objectives of the revised town plan, the Supreme Court struck it down for not complying with other laws.

The decision leaves Marbella without a revised town plan that sorted out most of the planning irregularities of the Gil years, and that cost the town hall so much in time and effort to get approved. It sets town planning in Marbella back 30 years, says the paper, and brings back into force the town plan of 1986.

It’s also bad news for the local property market, which was one of the few real estate brightspots in Spain until now. It drags Marbella’s reputation back into the dirt by reminding people of its corrupt past, whilst the uncertainty will put off buyers and investors.

The decision could mean no more new building licences for the foreseeable future, plunging the residential construction business back into crisis just when it looked like recovering after more than a decade on ice.

The problem is “really serious because it places the town in an extraordinary legal and planning vacuum, as in principle it means returning to the plan of ‘86, and that’s practically impossible,” said Ramón Dávila, head of the Promotur residential tourism trade body in Andalusia, in comments to Sur.


However, not everyone was disappointed by the news. Ricardo Arranz, President of the National Association of Urbanisation Developers, said the decision was “right and expected” and celebrated the demise of the 2010 revised plan. “It was an unmanageable plan, absurd in every way and had started to scare off investors,” he told Sur. “It was done in a hurry on the fly, by architects who knew absolutely nothing about the needs of Marbella and its [property] market. And it was all supported by a public administration that had the grave responsibility of approving a plan they knew perfectly well was good for nothing.”

Arranz claims the revised plan was an “economic disaster” but recognises that coming up with a new plan that works for Marbella will be “complicated and problematic” given the current political reality of a town hall governed by a coalition of four different parties.

At the stroke of a pen, thousands of people who thought their nightmare had ended with the 2010 revision now have to deal again with the problem of owning illegal homes in Marbella. Fortunately for them, recent legislation in Madrid now ensures that buyers in good faith have to be compensated before any Spanish homes are demolished. “At least purchasers have the protection of the articles we have managed to introduce – no demolition without compensation for good faith purchasers,” says Gerardo Vazquez, a lawyer and activist fighting for property rights in Spain. Demolition may no longer be on the cards, but owning a property with planning infractions can still be a major headache with no easy exit.

Marbella now has to go back to the drawing board for a new town plan, which could take years and hang like a cloud over a market that would otherwise have some of the best potential in Spain.



3 thoughts on “Marbella under a cloud after Supreme Court strikes down town plan”

  1. Terry Fitzpatrick

    I can’t see the point of this order which will now, because it’s a decision of the Supreme Court, have an effect on similar properties across the region.

  2. Chris Nation

    Well, Terry, perhaps it is an attempt to drag Spain in general and the property market in particular, out of its reprehensible habit of cheating, at every level. As someone trading GBP for Euros like crazy all last week, I’m sick of the thought that some bandit will stuff me up.

    To imply, as you do, that bad guys being brought up short in one place should not mean bad guys in other places should not also be nailed, is to echo St. Augustine. “Oh Lord, make me pure. But not yet.”

    Take them all down and threw away the keys, especially the banditos who have bankrupted Valencia, city and province.

    1. Melanie

      Hi Chris,

      ” As someone trading GBP for Euros like crazy all last week” This sentence has caught my attention.
      I am planning to buy a place in the Marbella region soon and I really need any advice you can give me regarding currency exchange tips and areas to avoid. Thank you.

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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