Last week, in the municipality of Vera in Almeria, Spain, the Andalucían government demolished the home of Mr. & Mrs. Prior, a retired British couple from Berkshire. Confusion reigns but the planning and legal situation was simple enough and not much different from what one would expect in the UK.
The demolished dwelling was built taking advantage of a standard planning policy enabling the building of agricultural workers dwellings in the countryside. The policy appears in most local plans throughout rural Spain and is applied using similar criteria as in the UK. The requirements being met, all that is needed for full legal compliance is a building licence from the Town Hall. The policy permits such dwellings on otherwise non-developable rural land providing that:
- The plot is a minimum of 1 hectare,
- It is the home of a person deriving their income from agriculture locally and/or on that plot
- There is no other development close by that might result in creation of a centre of population in that rural environment; notwithstanding that at one dwelling per hectare it would be very spread out.
The requirements are clear but have led to abuse with the creation of one hectare plots and homes. In the case of Spanish nationals they would most likely carry out some agriculture on their plot if only oranges or olives. Nearly four years ago in 2004 the Courts found that the dwelling built for the Priors on land purchased by them contravened two of the above requirements. The property was a retirement residence and not an agricultural worker’s home. It was part of a group of 49 dwellings, 18 of which were aligned along a tarmaced lane. Accordingly an order was given for its demolition.
Such abuses are normally only pursued by the government planning authority where they are perceived to have got out of hand. The intent being to discourage other people and local authorities from further abuses. Compensation is payable for losses resulting from the issue illegal licences, dependant on the correctness of the information given to the Town Hall by the applicant or his agents; the seller of the land, the lawyer, the architect or the builder may also be liable. Claims for compensation can take a long time which does not help the Priors if they are not the authors of their own problems and have been wronged.
Where it is practical to correct the inadequacies of an illegal development, e.g. by completion of procedures or proper roads or open space, the authorities are generally pragmatic, insisting on this prior to legalising the project. The exception being where development is on protected or public land. It is not therefore expected that there will be any significant amount of demolition despite the number of presently illegal properties.
For further information contact: Peter J. Goodhall, Managing Director, The Almanzora Bay Group of Companies in Almeria, Spain.
Telephone:+ 34 950 467 411