Lanzarote, the Canary Islands tourist destination, faces the possibility of losing a valuable environmental classification because of illegal overdevelopment of coastal areas.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), the Spanish island’s unique “Reservation of the Biosphere” status, awarded in 1993, is under review because of hotel developers’ breaches of local planning rules.
The Unesco review follows a joint investigation by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Financial Times into how EU funds were used to fuel a building boom on land earmarked as environmentally sensitive.
Eight large hotels on the island – some of which use the biosphere status to promote their businesses – qualified for €23.6m of EU funding under schemes designed to help generate employment in the area, the FT/Bureau investigation found.
More than 30 local officials and businessmen in Lanzarote have been arrested in connection with the use of illegal planning permits and the EU’s anti-corruption team, Olaf, has been charged with ensuring that the EU subsidies are returned.
Lanzarote’s governing council and a regional court has found as many as 24 hotels, including seven that received EU funding, were in breach of local planning laws designed to protect the fragile landscape.
Although the island’s government is obliged to inform Unesco of any changes in circumstance that may affect its biosphere status, the organisation was unaware of the illegally built hotels until contacted by the FT and the bureau last week.