Valencian ‘land grab’ laws to be reviewed

After much criticism, and growing pressure from the European Parliament, the government of the Valencian Region has announced its intention to overhaul urban planning laws, including the infamous ‘land grab’ laws that allow developers to expropriate land from private owners.

The decision to “coordinate all the town planning laws and satisfy Europe” was announced last week in Alicante by José Ramón García Antón, Valencia’s minister for public works, transport and town planning, at the end of a conference on the construction sector.

This will be the second time in the space of a few years that the Valencian government has been pressurised into changing its urban planning laws by a tidal wave of criticism, largely from outside the region.

In 2006, the Valencian government replaced the original ‘land grab’ law, known as the Ley Reguladora de la Actividad Urbanística (LRAU), with Valencia’s present town planning law, called the ley Urbanística Valenciana (LUV).

Though a slight improvement, the new law does not stop unscrupulous developers, in cahoots with local politicians, from presenting planning schemes that expropriate land from private owners, in some cases forcing them to contribute hundreds of thousands of Euros to the urbanisation costs. Ironically, the new law also came in for criticism from local developers for being too complex.

Victims of Valencia’s planning laws, many of whom have lost their homes and been financially ruined by greedy local developers and politicians, were forced to take their complaints to Brussels when it became clear that the local administration saw them as nothing more than ungrateful whingers. The European parliament has condemned Spain 3 times since 2003 on this question.

Many of the victims would argue that the worst aspect of Valencia’s town planning law is the right it gives developers to propose planning schemes on land that doesn’t belong to them, forcing affected owners to give up land at a fraction of its true value, and contribute tens of thousands of Euros or more to the costs of urbanising the land lost.

The EU has no jurisdiction over national planning laws, so is powerless to intervene on this front. Instead, the European parliament has attacked the LUV, and the LRAU before it, for violating EU public procurement procedures.

The chances are that any new law introduced by the Valencian government will do the minimum to comply with EU directives on public procurement, whilst allowing the so called ‘land grabs’ to continue.

Valencia’s notorious ‘land grab’ laws have been copied by other regions, such as Andalucia and Murcia, where similar problems are starting to emerge.