Esteban González Pons, Vice-Secretary General of the right-of-centre People’s Party in power in Madrid, recently visited Almeria canvassing for the European parliamentary elections, and met with groups fighting for property rights in the region.
Illegal homes and planning scandals affect an estimated 300,000 owners in Andalusia – the majority of them Spaniards – so this is not a problem limited just to foreigners.
However, expats like British pensioners Len and Helen Prior, whose home was bulldozed to the ground by the Junta (regional Government of Andalusia), despite having been built with planning permission, are often trapped in Spain by planning scandals, so the problem is often more traumatic for them. There are an estimated 12,000 illegal homes in the Almanzora and North Almeria region alone.
Victims and action groups like the Abusos Urbanísticos Almanzora No (AUAN) association, fighting for property rights in the Almanzora region of Almeria, urged Pons to introduce solutions at a state level, including changes to national town planning laws, and the right to compensation when buyers in good faith have their homes demolished.
“The victims are tired of this and want real changes,” said Gerardo Vazquez, lawyer for AUAN, and Maura Hillen, president of the AUAN, in comments to the Spanish press after the meeting. “It’s election time and we don’t want to end up talking about solutions for after the elections, like always. We believe the responsibility for finding a solution to this town planning disease lies not just with Seville, but also with Madrid, where the PP is in power, which is why we made a series of suggestions in the meeting.”
Pons said he regretted “the situation of those whose homes the Junta is knocking down.” He promised to study the document submitted by the victims, and continue working to find the best solutions to legalise homes whilst respecting the law and the environment.
Speaking to a gathering after the meeting attended by 800 people including victims and local politicians, Pons said he had had a chance to greet the Priors, saying that the demolition by the Junta of their home in January 2008 was “a symbol of something that should never happen in Spain.” Addressing himself in English to the assembled crowd he said “Your problem is our problem.”
Local action groups are concerned that fine words at election time quickly get forgotten after the elections.