Expat property owners marched through Almeria City on 9 January to protest against town planning disarray and corruption, whilst demanding stronger property rights and access to utilities.
The march was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the day the Priors lost their home to a demolition order from the Government of Andalucia. The regional government argued their villa was illegally built, despite having planning permission from the town hall. Len and Helen Prior – a retired British couple from Berkshire – are now fighting for compensation whilst living in what used to be their garage.
Many other expatriate owners in the province fear their homes will also be demolished, as the regional government takes a hard line against what it calls illegal properties. Having bought in good faith, owners blame municipal corruption and administrative incompetence for their plight.
Organised by the AULAN citizens movement against urban planning and property rights abuse, the protesters chanted “Stop Corruption. Justice Now. Support us. We bought in good faith. Save our homes. Stop planning and real estate abuse. Regularisation now. Justice for the Priors. Transparency and Citizen Participation,” as they marched. 500 people joined the protest.
At the end of the march the Priors and other representatives met with Luis Caparros, regional head of planning and housing for Almeria, who expressed his sympathy but said there was nothing he could do. He maintains that the Andalucian government acted correctly in demolishing the Prior’s home, and that the Priors should seek compensation from their local town hall.
This whole sorry saga beggars belief. Of all the monstrosities and illegal properties – 19,000 in Marbella alone – that have been built in Andalucia in recent years, including entire developments of cheap and nasty blocks of flats built on the coast, the only property that the regional government has actually knocked down is the Prior’s – an attractive villa, built with planning permission, tucked away in the Almerian countryside.
PRESS RELEASE FROM PROTEST ORGANISERS
Joint AUAN and AULAN press release: 11 January 2009
AULAN (Abusos Urbanisticos del Levante Almeriense, No!) and AUAN (Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora, No!) would like to thank the demonstrators for their commitment and support during the 9 January 2009 march in Almeria.
During the protest, Sr Caparros, the regional delegate for housing and planning, held a private meeting with Len and Helen Prior and representatives of the AUAN and AULAN. Sr Caparrós said that he understood and sympathised with the human aspect of the Priors’ situation, but reiterated that “the Junta (regional government) acted correctly within the law and compensation must be sought from the mayor who issued the license”.
He said that it was the courts that had ordered the demolition of the house, not his department, and that he was “forced to work within the framework of the law”.
During the meeting, the representatives of the marchers said that they considered what had happened to Mr & Mrs Prior and their current situation to be a breach of their human rights. Mrs Prior said they were living in their garage and did not even have a bathroom. She said that they had done everything legally and were forced out of their house with no compensation in sight. Mr Prior asked Sr Caparrós how he would have felt if, after he retired and had spent all his money on a house and done everything correctly, that he found himself thrown out of it. Mr Prior also asked why in the area there were other houses recently built and yet his house was the only one knocked down.
Sr Caparrós did agree that after the AULAN and AUAN jointly broker a meeting between the mayor of Vera and Mr & Mrs Prior, he would speak directly to the mayor of Vera to see if a solution could be found.
He also said that although it was the democratic right of people to protest, he was disappointed that the AUAN had not followed up on his offer of a meeting to discuss the issues. Maura Hillen, representing AUAN, said that after the initial meeting back in September, AUAN had indeed attempted to set up a meeting but had received no response. Sr Caparros replied that there had been no point in holding such a meeting at that time given that there was as yet nothing to report.
The representatives of the marchers stated that they reserved the right to stage further marches.
They will also be making the arrangements shortly for the meeting with Felix López, the mayor of Vera, and the Priors.
With respect to the issues of the Almanzora Valley, Sr Caparrós also agreed with Mrs. Hillen to a technical meeting between representatives of the demonstrators and the Junta in Almeria to discuss progress and steps currently being taken and to be taken in the future to resolve the problems created by planning irregularities. Arrangements are to be made next week.
AUAN and AULAN committee members consider these results to be positive given that the demonstrators rate ongoing dialogue, transparency and consultation with affected parties to be of highest priority. They also believe that if the victims of planning and real estate abuse were kept involved, matters would proceed more smoothly.
Mrs Hillen advised Sr Caparros that the AUAN has submitted an allegation to the Human Rights Council (OHCHR-UNOG) based in Geneva highlighting the failure of the Junta de Andalucia to act in a timely manner with respect to the provision of interim services (electricity and water) to homes caught in the illegality trap. This topic is also tabled for discussion at the technical meeting with Junta representatives.
The issue of “land grab” was discussed, when someone who has bought a property in good faith is later required to give up roughly 50% of their land, is not compensated for the land but forced to pay for infrastructure costs. Sr Caparrós stated that this was the law in Spain. It was pointed out to Sr Caparrós, however, that the protesters considered this practice to be against the human rights of homeowners and that the European Parliament had passed a resolution last year stating the same. Sr Caparrós argued that the law was the law, but conceded that an application could be made to his department on an individual case basis for further discussion.
The Decalogue of the protesters’ demands has been forwarded to the Junta.