The government of Andalucia reveals a new policy to deal with an estimated 300,000 illegal homes in the region. The solution involves changing local attitudes towards illegal building.
All homes that can be legalised will be legalised, so long as owners pay the corresponding charges, whilst strong measures will be taken to prevent so much as even one more illegal home being built in future.
That, in essence, is Andalucía’s new policy towards illegally built homes, unveiled last week at a town planning conference in Chiclana, Cadiz Province, attended by Rosa Urioste, head of the town planning inspectorate in Andalucia.
According to the first line of the new policy document, Andalucia now aims to “Provide useful solutions in practise and deal with (existing) problems in a generous manner.” That might mean no more demolitions of illegally built homes purchased in good faith by British pensioners.
The policy of wiping the slate clean and ensuring it never happens again got unanimous backing from the mayors, town planners, architects, academics and other assorted experts attending the conference in Chiclana (where the town hall is struggling to deal with more than 10,000 illegal homes). “We are in politics to be public servants, we can’t ignore reality,” said José María Román, the Socialist mayor of Chiclana.
Town planning inspectorate head Urioste explained that the Junta will now focus on “prevention” and “managing the past.”
Prevention means responding quicker and enforcing bigger penalties when illegal building takes place, for example using “express demolitions” carried out within a month. It also means encouraging a culture of respect for town planning laws. “There are rules and they must be obeyed,” said Urioste.
“Managing the past” means dealing with the estimated 300,000 homes that have already been built in contravention of existing planning laws. Wherever possible, illegal homes will be incorporated into town plans, so long as owners cough up for the privilege (though payment terms will be “flexible” they say). Some homes, however, like those built in areas of special protection, can never be legalised and will have to be demolished.
Another novelty is the possibility of granting a licence of first occupation for homes that never had a building licence.
The first step towards solving the mess is an audit of all the illegal homes in Andalucia, already underway in 100 of Andalucía’s 771 municipalities. The deadline for this step is 2 years.
Two of the areas worst affected by illegal building are the Axarquía in Malaga province, and the Almanzora Valley in Almeria. Both these rural areas have attracted large numbers of British pensioners who are now leading protagonists in the drama.
Who is to blame?
Another question that came up during the conference was ‘who is to blame for this mess?’ Someone must bear some responsibility for a situation in which 300,000 homes have been built illegally.
Whilst the mayors blamed town planning authorities, and town planners blamed mayors, the best answer came from Urioste. “We have all failed…Buyers, town planners, people who built without permission, people who looked the other way.”
She also pointed the finger of blame at Andalucian society in general, where there “is no culture of town planning.” “You can’t do what you want with your land, there are rules of society….You can’t build where you want, you can’t build a house on land just because it is beside your grandparent’s house. People have to realise that the property rights of Roman law no longer exist.”
Her comments go to the heart of the problem. For many generations, Andalucians could pretty much build what they wanted, where they wanted, so long as they could afford it. That was fine whilst the scale of building was small, but chaos ensued when Andalucia was hit by a monumental housing boom, fuelled by money gushing in from northern Europe. It’s a different world now. Everything had changed except local attitudes. Now they have to change too.