Andalusia has introduced a new planning framework for urban development in the region, which homeowner’s associations describe as “long overdue”.
Like other Spanish regions, Andalusia has been struggling with planning corruption and chaos for decades, and the region is littered with planning scandals that discourage investment by increasing the risks and costs of buying property, which is bad for the whole region.
Marbella is both Andalusia’s flagship resort, and most famous example of planning scandal, but lots of other lesser known municipalities are plagued by problems like harmful development and illegal buildings. Not all of the problems can be traced back to corruption. Some have their origin in incompetence, and a lack of municipal resources. And all of them are the result of a dysfunctional planning framework and system that has been in place for decades.
Many foreign buyers in the region have blundered into planning pitfalls they could never have imagined existed, and found themselves trapped in Spain by a house they could not sell. Some, like the Priors, have seen their home demolished before the very eyes.
One of the biggest scandals is the more than 300,000 rural homes built without appropriate planning permission all over the Andalusian countryside, many of them bought by foreigners. “For decades owners have found themselves trapped in a legal vacuum because their house or apartment had been built illegally, leaving them to face an array of problems such as no paperwork (deeds), no permission to connect to services such as water and electricity and, in some well publicised cases, facing the threat of or actual demolition of their property,” explains the homeowners campaign group AUAN (Abusos Urbanisticos Andalucia NO).
“Many thousands of expats, buyers in good faith, fell into this trap when buying their dream home in the sun and thus became hostage to their own home for over a decade at the mercy of planning officials who have attempted, mostly without success, to shoehorn irregular houses into a highly regular and extremely lengthy planning process.”
New Andalusia Town Planning Law of 2021
Back in 2019 the Junta or regional government introduced a type of amnesty for many of the illegally built rural homes in Andalusia, but now it has finally passed a new legal and planning framework to regulate urban development in the region that will hopefully lead to better outcomes for everyone except corrupt officials and their cronies. The new planning law was approved by the Parliament of Andalusia on the 25th of November 2021.
According to the AUAN, the key points of the new Andalusian planning laws are as follows:
|Simplified Town Plans|
The Ley de Impulso y Sostenibilidad del Territoria de Andalucia (LISTA) unifies, modifies and repeals various laws and regulations, including the Ley de Ordenacion Urbanistica de Andalucía (LOUA) in an effort to streamline procedures and thus reduce the time taken to approve town plans.
According to government estimates three in every five municipalities in Andalusia currently lack a town plan and many have been trying to get their plans approved for more than 10 years. The government hopes that the LISTA will reduce this timeframe to two years and triple the number of plans in progress.
Simplified Land Classifications
The new land law simplifies the classification of land into urban (urbano) or not urban (rustico), eliminating the classification of land as urbanizable (suelo urbanizable).
Construction in the countryside
The LISTA absolutely prohibits construction on protected land but, controversially for some, leaves the door open to the construction of a family home on rustic land in certain circumstances not necessarily linked to agriculture or tourism.
Houses on protected land
These can now become regularised through what is called an “AFO” assuming the relevant time period has passed, and other conditions are met.
Irregular dwellings built without appropriate planning permission can now be ‘consolidated’ and reformed, rather than just repaired.
Speaking on behalf of various homeowners’ associations in Andalusia, the lawyer Gerardo Vazquez (pictured) welcomed the new law saying that whilst it incorporated previous reforms it also contained important improvements. But he tempered his remarks by highlighting the need to quickly set out the regulations in order to detail how the new laws will work in practice.
“The biggest problem at the moment is that some town halls and their technical services seem reluctant to apply new regulations,” says Vazquez. “It seems that some of them are living in the past and the old cumbersome and bureaucratic way of doing things.”
Urban planning bureaucracies are always critical to the development of a region and society. The right framework and implementation can lead to positive development and a housing mix that satisfies the needs of the greatest number of groups, from luxury to affordable housing. A dysfunctional system leads to corruption and over or under development, lower or distorted economic growth, environmental harm, and housing access problems. It’s no exaggeration to say that urban planning is one of the main pillars of societal progress, and one that Spain has not managed very well.
Constructive town planning laws are a necessary but not sufficient condition for sustainable and optimum urban development. As Vazquez points out, the success or failure of the new law will also depend on the attitude of the town halls and their technicians. “We hope the new law will bring about a total renovation of Andalusian urban planning, that is to say that we believe it represents a brighter and more hopeful present and future, provided it is applied properly and with real enthusiasm.”
Regardless of the merits of Andalusia’s new town planning framework it will be bitterly opposed by environmentalists, who are against any solution for the more than 300,000 rural homes built without appropriate planning permission. Will it succeed? Only if the planning bureaucracy gets behind it. If it is a success, it will be a major boost for Andalusia and its housing market. Only time will tell.