In a big blow to many property owners on the Balearic Island of Formentera, Spain’s Constitutional Court has struck down parts of the 2013 Coastal Law reform that would have redrawn the public-private boundary on the island.
When the current right-of-centre People’s Party in Madrid took power with an absolute majority in 2011 the new Government set about reforming the Spanish Ley de Costas, or Coastal Law, introduced in 1988, which had nationalised much of the coastline and confiscated much private property without compensation.(Learn more here: Spain’s Ley de Costas – Coastal Law explained)
The reform was passed in 2013, including measures like extending concessions (for buildings) on public land from 30 to 75 years, and reducing the area of special protection inland from the waterfront from 100 to 20 metres in some areas.
FORMENTERA: A SPECIAL CASE
The reform also mandated a new boundary between public and private land for the Balearics island of Formentera, reflecting the “exceptional character” and “special geomorphologic configuration” of the island.
Thanks to Formentera’s small size and coastal landscape, private property owners were hit hard by the 1988 Ley de Costas, which confiscated proportionally more private land there than anywhere else. This reform was intended to address that injustice, and return some land to private owners.
But the 2013 reform was contested in the Constitutional Court by the opposition Socialist Party, supported by organisations like Greenpeace. The Court has just ruled that some elements of the reform, such as the new boundary for Formentera, are unconstitutional, and must be removed from the statute books.
The Court ruled against the new public-private boundary (or deslinde in Spanish) for Formentera on the grounds that it lacks “rational justification” and objective criteria. It’s a big blow for numerous residents of Formentera, who were expecting to get their properties back, but now have concessions instead.
Jaume Ferrer, President of the Formentera Island Council, described the reform as “ill advised”. He commented, “the strong wording and decisive nature of the sentence demonstrate that the previous work by the legal teams of the central government – which called into question the past divisions – were poorly prepared”.
Further, President Ferrer bemoaned what he called Madrid’s poor form at failing to include the Formentera Council in setting the new coastal delineations. Ferrer concluded: “This is unfortunately the same complaint we have tried without success to convey to the PP for the last four years.”
The president lamented a situation in which the hardest hit are the landowners who have fought for years for their property rights. “I’m aware of the unfairness of the situation,” he said, and pledged the Formentera Council would continue advocating for a return of lost land.
By using confusing criteria to nationalise thousands of waterfront properties without compensation, the Ley de Costas has done damage to Spain’s reputation for property rights, whilst spectacularly failing to protect the Spanish coast from over-development. The law was badly conceived to begin with, and it appears the reform was badly drafted too. This latest blunder comes soon after news that the Supreme Court struck down Marbella’s town plan, reinforcing the impression of incompetent law-making and unreliable regulations in Spain.