With this week’s two demolitions in Cantoria, the total houses in Almeria that have been demolished for “irregularities” now rises to 16. 11 of those properties were owned by Spanish people, and the remaining five by Brits.
Issues with illegal properties is not new news for Spain, but for the many property owners who are living in a ticking time bomb, it is certainly BIG news. The property boom saw a number of greedy developers and officials skirting around the law, leading to homes being made available to eager buyers. Instead of ensuring that everything was legal and above board, many homes were built on rural land. According to figures released by the regional government, there are 300,000 potentially illegal properties in Andalucia alone.
One of the most newsworthy cases was that of the Priors who became the first Brits in Spain whose home was demolished. In January 2008 Len and Helen Prior had their property bulldozed in Vera, Almería, over ‘planning irregularities’ despite having the correct paperwork signed off from the town hall. Six years later and they are yet to receive compensation despite the court ordering the town of Vera to pay.
There are proposed changes to the planning laws in Spain – and the country waits with baited breath. The changes to the law could enable a huge number of properties to be regularised. President of the Junta de Andalucia, Susana Diaz, who is part of the team behind the proposals said: “We are going to respond to the situation which affects thousands of families and which cannot be ignored by the administration.”
She added: “This government is going to propose to Parliament a change to Article 185 of the Planning Law of Andalucia which will make it possible to regularise the thousands and thousands of houses in Andalucia.”
On a recent visit to Almeria, Esteban Gonzalez Pons, the Vice Secretary General for research and programs of the governing Partido Popular, pledged that the demolition of ‘illegal’ homes “will not happen again in the future.” His sentiments were echoed by Gabriel Amat, although Snr Amat now has other priorities like keeping out of the courtroom after accusations over dodgy paperwork of his own. Snr Pons’ speech, in front of more than 700 Spanish and British property owners at a press conference in Fines in May 2014, was received with rapturous applause.
Sadly… the posturing of the politicians has done little to fix the problem thus far.
In the meantime… demolitions in Las Terreras, Cantoria
Frank and Janet Doel, and Peter and Margaret Hegarty no longer have homes in Cantoria after this week’s demolitions. Both couples had returned to the UK previously, let down by a judicial system which has left them stranded. Along with Clive and Gillian Davies and John and Jan Brooks, the owners of the two properties demolished in the hamlet in October 2013, they are fighting for compensation totalling more than €789,000.
Like the Priors’ experience, this has been mirrored with Las Terreras in Cantoria, whose property owners are yet to receive a penny despite the promoter, Francisco Pedrosa Moreno, being convicted and the former mayor, Pedro Llamas, being given a two year suspended sentence. Ironically, both guilty parties declared themselves bankrupt, relieving them of having to pay any compensation. Funny that.
In attendance on November 18 to show their solidarity and support at the demolition were a number of key figures including Maura Hillen the president of AUAN (Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No), mayors from a dozen nearby municipalities, the president of the MMVA (Mancomunidad de Municipios del Valle de Almanzora), the president of AEPA (local business association), British councillor from Mojacar (Jessica Dee Simpson), members of the British and Spanish press, including Spain Buddy, as well as supportive members of the public. There was also a firm but friendly security presence in the form of the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia. Despite being an emotive occasion, there was no trouble and the demolition went without a hitch after after the president of the MMVA read out a petition that had been signed by 14 mayors in the province, many associations and members of the public.
Despite the public outcry and massive publicity by the media and interested parties, the Provincial Court in Almeria dismissed the appeal filed by AUAN’S lawyer, Gerardo Vasquez, to stop the demolition of the Las Terreras homes. Vasquez had requested a delay on humanitarian grounds, alleging that its sponsors had not received the compensation fixed by courts. This latest demolition has renewed fears for other property owners in the area, particularly the owners of 98 properties of El Romeral-La Alhambra in Albox which were built between 2004 and 2006. The prosecution has named key people at promoter Construcciones Almanzora SL and construction companies Procoal Villas and Empire Villas SL. The state prosecutor is seeking demolition of the properties constructed.
The owners do not dispute that the properties were illegally constructed. This was established in the court – the same court that also judged the property owners to be due €789,000 in compensation between them because they were innocent victims. The issue is that the compensation has not been paid and now the four properties are gone. Out of sight… out of mind… and with no sign of any compensation heading the owners’ way. Sonia Ferrer, representative from the Junta de Andalucia said the government was “only complying with a judicial sentence obliging it to demolish the homes”. With reference to the proposed changes to planning law, she added that it would not save the properties as they were already in the court system. This statement was reiterated by the prosecutor for the Environment in Almería, José María López Cervilla.
Of course this problem is not unique to Almería. There are cases all over Spain, and the outlying areas such as the Canary Islands.
Certain parties have pointed the finger of blame at the home-owners, saying that they were naive, or that they knew what was going on. That is not always the case. These particular property owners used lawyers and notaries to make sure all was in order. they were assured by town councils and mayors that things were legal, that paperwork was present and correct, and that they would soon be able to live their dream lives in the sun. In other cases, home-owners who bought their houses in good faith complete with all the relevant building licences issued from town halls have found themselves in a legal “no man’s land” after the Junta withdrew the licences. Sadly, these people are now without a home, and without any form of compensation. Their lives’ work is now down the drain. Peter and Margaret Hegarty had used the proceeds from the sale of their UK home back in 2005 as well as an early retirement payment from Peter’s employer, British Steel.
Speaking to the Telegraph on November 18, Margaret Hegarty said: “We’ve known at some point it was going to happen. But when it does happen it’s still a bit of a shock. We’ll just have to get on with things and not think about it too much. It’s been eight years and we’re still not any further on. The courts have let us down totally. It was a waste of time going. It’s not made a blind bit of difference. In a few weeks’ time it’ll all be forgotten about. Now the villa’s gone, there’s not a reminder.”
“And our money’s gone too,” added Mr Hegarty.
There is help and support available
There are a number of non-profit organisations around Spain that fight for the home-owners. Here are just two.
In Almeria, AUAN (Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No) has very clear aims.
- To bring about, as far as it is possible, the proper legalisation of land and houses in Andalucía that are currently considered to be ‘illegal’ through collective representation to our councils, to the Central and Regional Government in Spain and to Europe if necessary for remedies in this regard.
- To secure a proper supply of water and electricity from the relevant providers as a legal right.
- To prevent or mitigate, as far as possible, any potential ‘land-grab’ or infrastructure costs having to be borne by owners of properties where these should be borne by other parties i.e. property developers where owners had not been informed of the future potential expense.
- To inform, support, and where possible, advise our members on matters which commonly affect them in relation to the foregoing, as far as is practicable.
For further information about AUAN – visit their website HERE
SOHA (Save Our Homes Axarquia) is another non-profit organisations fighting for owners, this time in Axarquia. Here is their mission:
- The protection of the rights of Axarquia residents in accordance with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights
- To help residents protect their homes with legal help and direct action
- To actively campaign for the establishment of an amnesty for honest homeowners in Azarquia
For further information about SOHA – visit their website HERE
The problem here is that although the properties are illegal… the only people who seem to be suffering are the home-owners that purchased in good faith. And yet still Spain does not seem to have learned its lesson
Photographs © Alan Gandy – Saatchi
Video © AUAN