EU takes Spain to court over ‘land grab’ laws

The European Commission has decided to take Spain to court over its notorious ‘land grab’ laws, after thousands of property owners complained to the European parliament about planning abuses in the Valencian 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.

Valencia’s planning laws have now been introduced into other autonomous regions, such as Andalucia, where ‘land grab’ schemes have started to emerge.

Though owners of small holdings have suffered the most under Valencia’s planning laws, losing their land to developers and town halls for private housing projects with little or no compensation, the EC’s legal action does not address this problem head on. Rather, the EC is taking Spain to court over a technicality related to public tender processes.

The EC argues that the LUV, and the LRAU before it, do not satisfy EU directives for putting public works projects out to tender, saying that both laws “do not comply with obligations for awarding public works contracts.”

The Valencian government argues that the planning schemes in question, known as Integrated Action Plans (PAI), are private schemes not bound by EU directives governing the award of public contracts. According to a spokesperson, the Valencian government is “preparing legal arguments to defend the interests of the Valencian Region.” However, in this case, it will be the Spanish government will be in the dock for Valencia’s town planning practices.

Lobby groups fighting to protect the property rights of small holders, such as Abusos Urbanísticos No, have expressed satisfaction at the EC’s decision to take Spain to court of Valencia’s unjust planning laws.

Alicante’s association of developers (Provia), on the other hand, has voiced its full support for the Valencian government and its town planning laws, which it describes as “pioneering and innovative”, whilst calling on the EC to show some “common sense.”