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Andalusian parliament endorses planning solution for illegally-built homes in the face of opposition from environmentalists

andalusia illegal building planning amnesty
Andalusia’s Minister for Planning, Marifrán Carazo, (centre) with members of parliament and representatives of homeowners groups

On the 24th of October the regional parliament of Andalusia gave its backing to a decree by the regional government (Junta) establishing a regulatory framework for sorting out planning problems that affect an estimated 327,000 rural homes in the region.

Under the new rules, many of the owners of homes that were built without correct planning permission can apply for a new type of planning status that allows them to access municipal services, and register their title deeds in the Land Registry (and therefore sell). Though the decree, which the Junta insists is not an amnesty, provides a route to legalisation for homes with planning problems, owners still have to apply for it.

The decree was endorsed with 90 votes in favour and 16 votes against, all of the opposition coming from the left wing Adelante Andalucia party aligned with local environmentalists.

The spokesperson for homeowners association AUAN, Gerardo Vazquez, who attended the parliamentary session, said “We are very happy with the efforts made by the Ministry to quickly deliver a regulation that may help many thousands of people who deserve fast solutions because this has been going on for a long time.”

The planning mess in Andalusia has trapped hundreds of thousands of owners in legal limbo for a decade or more, many of them foreigners who had no idea what they were getting into when they bought their dream homes in the Andalusian countryside. The new decree establishes the regulatory framework for legalisation, and an exit route for those who want to sell up and leave, which is particularly important for foreigner owners who have been caught up in the mess.

Environmentalists in Andalusia condemn the decree as an amnesty that rewards speculators, and encourages bad behaviour

Environmental activists in Andalusia are implacably opposed to anything that looks like a planning amnesty for illegally-built homes. They argue this decree is a moral hazard that will lead to two or three times more illegal homes – that’s another 600,000 to 900,000 homes built without planning permission in rural Andalusia in the years to come. “This decree includes very dangerous new measures that will encourage the total impunity of illegal building, and sets a terrible precedent,” argues a communique from the Ecologists in Action activists group. In their eyes this is just an amnesty by the Junta to please “speculators” and “illegal builders’, who will soon start building again on a large scale, without demand or financing.  The environmentalists take no account of market conditions, and seem to be indifferent to the plight of hundreds of thousands of owners caught up in the mess, whom I suspect they blame for their own misfortune.

In theory all amnesties are a moral hazard, but I don’t buy the argument that this decree will detonate another illegal building boom in rural Andalusia. The last boom was the result of a still dysfunctional planning system – under-resourced and plagued by corruption – that encourages illegal building (all over Spain, not just in Andalusia), coupled with an extraordinary real estate boom fueled by the introduction of the Euro, a tsunami of cheap credit, and the arrival of low cost travel, creating a perfect storm that won’t be seen again, at least not in our lifetimes. The Spanish countryside now has an acute problem with depopulation, and without demand, there will be no more large scale illegal building, amnesty or not.

For argument’s sake, what if demand were to come roaring back? Then yes, amnesties can encourage bad behaviour, though I doubt buyers would make the same mistake again. But if protecting the countryside from unplanned development is important, which it absolutely is, then the previous legislation failed spectacularly, so why carry on as before? The ultimate cause is the dysfunctional planning system that leads to unplanned development in response to demand, not the inevitable amnesty to sort out the mess.

Amnesty or not, the damage is done, the homes are built, and without this decree many of them would fall into disrepair, blighting the countryside even more, whilst creating misery for owners, and damaging the local economy. At the very least this decree might help relieve the suffering of thousands of elderly people who have been trapped in rural Andalusia by homes they can’t sell.

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