MEPs on “land grab” fact-finding mission to Spain

Developers ridicule British press criticism of Valencia’s “land grab” laws as “a work of fiction”

Margrete Auken, a Danish MEP for the Greens, visited Spain last week with fellow MEP David Hammerstein on a fact finding mission for her report into property-related problems in Spain.

The report was commissioned by the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament after complaints about “the problems suffered by several thousand European citizens who have chosen to buy property in Spain,” in the words of the committee’s Polish president, Marcin Libicki. This will be the 3rd report examining property rights abuses, environmental damage, and the violation of EU public tender rules in Spain.

At the end of last week Auken and Hammerstein met with José Ramón García Antón, head of the Valencia’s Department of the Environment, Water, Town Planning and Housing, to discuss Valencia’s notorious “land grab” laws. These laws allow developers to promote planning schemes on other people’s land, and force owners to help finance the schemes.

According to press reports, García Antón explained to the MEPs the Valencian Government’s plans to improve the town planning laws and strengthen the rights of owners. Critics of the Valencian Government’s laws claim that the proposed changes are a cynical attempt to deflect criticism without addressing the fundamental problem.

Monovar, Valencia, under threat from a "land grab" housing development
Monovar, Valencia, under threat from a “land grab” housing development

After meeting García Antón, Auken met with representatives from the Valencian real estate and construction sector, lead by Benjamin Muñoz, General Secretary of the Federation of Real Estate Developers and Urbanisers (FEPROVA), and Vice-president of the Association of Developers and Constructors of Spain.

According to FEPROVA’s press release after the meeting, the MEPs “showed a change of attitude after the explanations given by members of the federation of developers, relating to town planning legislation in the (Valencian) Community, the legal guarantees provided, and the commitment of the sector to comply with the town planning legislation.”

Auken and Hammerstein urged the sector to collaborate with the Petitions Committee to “look after the public interest, the protection of private property, and the free competition in the adjudication of urban planning programmes and projects,” reports the Spanish press.

Speaking for the developers, Muñoz promised to support the proposals of the Petitions Committee, though he qualified this by saying that “the problem under consideration today only concerns the public tender process, and has nothing to do with problems relating to private property or public interest.”

Taking aim at the British press

Muñoz also railed against the British press, calling reports that expats are having their properties stolen a “work of fiction.” He urged the MEPs to “give the same hearing to the accused as the accusers,” and give Spanish courts “the same credibility as the European Parliament,” given that “none of the accusations have been presented in any Spanish court.”

In response to this argument, citizen’s associations fighting property abuses in Spain, such as the AUN (Abusos Urbanisticos No!), point out that legal action in Spain is futile, which is why victims have had to resort to European institutions like the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament.

“The urbanisers win because they have all the time and money they need to plead their case again and again,” explains AUN. “ The victims cannot keep going for five or ten years against an adversary who holds all the cards. The victim’s biggest (possibly only) asset is at stake: his house and home. Even if he wins the case, the sentence cannot be carried out, as has been recognised by those who know. If the victim’s house or land has been confiscated to make room for tourist clone houses, he can kiss it goodbye forever and ever. What sort of redress is this?”