“The housing market in Spain is not going to recover quickly if pictures of bulldozers knocking down expats’ homes are appearing in British newspapers.” That was Chris Bryant, the UK’s Minister for Europe, stating the obvious yesterday whilst appealing to Spain’s economic self interest to halt plans to demolish more British owned homes in Spain.
Bryant was speaking on an official visit to Southern Spain to look into the plight of British expats suffering from the incoherent enforcement of Spanish planning laws. A growing number of Britons in Spain have had their homes singled out for demolition, and one elderly British couple – Len and Helen Prior – have already lost their home to the government’s bulldozers, despite it having been built with planning permission from the local town hall.
Bryant went as far as to recommend an amnesty for illegally built homes owned by Britons in Spain. “I don’t think town halls have the money to compensate those affected, so a type of amnesty would be easier,” said Bryant.
Bryant qualified this saying “obviously it’s not for the British Government to tell the Spanish what to do.” But it is clear that the British government is lobbying for an amnesty or similar solution. “I’m pushing the message hard at all government levels that I meet here that they have got to put political willpower into these problems, whether it’s an amnesty, whether it’s a change in the law, whatever the solution is that is needed. That is the point I am pushing,” explained Bryant.
From his comments it seems it might not have escaped his notice that Spanish officials can sometimes be long on words and short on action. “Everyone I’ve spoken to in Spain says they want to find a solution but wanting a solution and getting one are two different things,” he said.
Bryant met John and Muriel Burns, whose home in Albox is due to be demolished. “They did everything to dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘T’s that they possibly could have to obtain the permission they required. But it turns out that the permission should not have been given. That was no fault of theirs whatsoever – but now they face the prospect of having their home demolished.”
But Bryant also made the point that not all Britons who have run into problems after buying property are innocent victims like John and Muriel. “I have to say also that there is an enormous difference between the Britons who just make a cursory legal deal – that is always ill advised – and those who have done everything they should or could have done but still find themselves in deep trouble.”
It’s a big, bad world
Bryant warned that buying property abroad is not as safe as buying in the UK. “People buying property anywhere abroad, not just in Spain, have to take at least twice as much trouble as they do at home to make sure everything is legal. It is so easy to go to a lawyer because he’s cheaper. Then later you find out that he wasn’t an independent lawyer at all, but was working all the time on behalf of the land developer and you are really stuffed.”
Along with Albox, Almeria, where eight British families are facing demolition orders issued at the end of last year, Bryant also visited Malaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol, and Torrevieja, a down-market British ghetto on the Costa Blanca, in the Valencian Region.
After meeting with Spanish government officials in Malaga, Bryant announced a joint initiative with the Spanish government to offer Britons buying property in Spain advice on planning regulations, amongst other things. From April, Spanish officials will work full time at the British consulates in Malaga and Alicante (Valencia) advising Britons on property regulations in Spain.