What breaches of EU law, Spanish Constitution and Human Rights? Well just in case you missed the past page or two here are the main abuses.
1. Consultation – or lack of it
In any civilised country the land owners have to be consulted. This is a basic right is it not? However it is a basic right seriously overlooked and ignored in Valencia.
2. Feasibility and environmental impact study
The Generalitat should order a feasibility study and environmental impact study to be conducted. These identify problems such as water shortages, waste disposal, electricity supply (Iberdrola are refusing to grant new licences in some areas because they don’t have the capacity to cope with current demand). Few projects have such a study and where carried out it is questionable they are indeed factual.
For example ‘Las Salinas’ at Calpe had a study. In fact a petition was raised against this urbanisation because of the environmental impact. The Spanish Authorities responded that according to their study there was no impact to consider and the EU washed its hands of it.
However this was very misleading as the project turned out to be a major urbanisation which will destroy hundreds of species of birds, flora and Fauna and water shortages – all conveniently overlooked. No consideration was given to anything except the benefits to developers and town halls to the detriment of the environment and the property owners.
3. Notification of owners
The owners should be notified – in nearly every case they are NOT! These typically are non resident foreigners and no attempt is made to contact them because a legal challenge would hold up the project. Where attempts are made, contact details are typically out of date – and it really isn’t in their interests to identify current owners.
4. Invitation to tenders.
Town halls are required to announce the urbanisation in the local, regional, national and European press for any major contracts – this is basic European Contract Law and applies to all member states. Typically a developer initiates the process and applies pressure on the town halls, in terms of social benefits and inducements – read bribes – allegedly.
A number of cases have been highlighted where mayors have been imprisoned for taking inducements. They push through development plans and only when it is approved do they announce them – giving the owners no time to react.
5. Expropriation of land.
The town halls have the right to steal – lets not mince our words, this is theft – owners land. They can take up to 70% of the land.
Let’s say we agree urban development is a good thing and we don’t mind losing a bit of land – or even paying a bit for the urbanisation. But 70% of your land to go to building roads and infrastructure – come on!
That’s a lot of roads!
Where does this land really go?
I was given some facts about an urbanisation locally. I was told that 10% of the land was for roads, 10% for green areas, 10% for public use. I am no mathematician but I calculate that to be 30%.
He also told me that the landowners lost around 40% in total. So where did the other 10% go to?
This is a typical urbanisation - if 40% is enough for this urbanisation, why, do others feel the need for an additional 30% on top. Where does this land go to?
Have a think about that for a moment.
Many town hall mayors and promoters become VERY rich after an urbanisation. How lucky to find so much land in an area being urbanised. I sure wish I had their foresight.
6. Payment of urbanisation fees.
To add insult to injury the landowners who have lost 70% of their land are presented with a bill for the urbanisation. At an AUN meeting in Benissa, I met a Lady who told me her story. She had a house and 1000M plot. The developers took 700M leaving her with 300M.
Not enough to have a house though – she needs 800M. In order to keep her house she must buy back 500M of her OWN land at the new value – which she cannot afford.
She is presented with a bill for €200,000 for an urbanisation she neither wants nor benefits from. But she has land she can sell I hear you say.
The land is worth about €225,000. She now has no home, little land and no money. She may be lucky and come out of it with a second hand caravan – so why is she complaining eh? She still has somewhere to live hasn’t she? What did she do wrong?
She bought a plot of rustic land.
CRIME of the Century!
Hold on a moment, surely this counters the argument put forward that a benefit to owners that their land is worth substantially more afterwards and the increase compensates the losses.
In what way have our lady benefited. If she is lucky she will sell her land – but who will buy it. Oh yes the developers – at a knock down price because its no good to anyone else. The land will be needed to pay the urbanisation fees. Where is her benefit?
It won’t happen on my back door – Will it?
This is exactly the attitude that assists the town halls. When they present their urbanisation plans they have met little resistance because people just wouldn’t believe it could happen to them.
Well wake up and smell the coffee.
It is here and until it is changed it can and will affect YOU.
We live Inland – we’re safe – aren’t we?
Most cases in the past five years have been in such places as Javea, Calpe, Altea, Benissa, Moraira. Hey you know what – that’s miles away – its never going to happen to us.
Well I’ll let you into a little secret.
The list of towns affected - currently 85+ towns and out of those at least 30 are Inland. Places such as Pego, Alcoy. Pedreguer, Villalonga, Albaida.
If you think it won’t happen to you – I hope it doesn’t. But don’t think it won’t.
Not all Town Halls are the same. There are some very conscientious Town Halls and public officials in this area. But not all of them are.
What is the EU doing about it?
In May 2004 the EU sent a delegation o the Valencia to see what the fuss was about. The delegation consisted of Margot Kessler, MEP, Eurig Wyn, MEP, and David Lowe, Head of Division, Committee on Petitions. They came in response to a petition raised by Charles Svoboda (Petition 609/2003). They spoke to a number of people affected by the Law able to give first hand accounts of their plight . They reported their findings for the visit, May 25-28 2004, pursuant to Rule 192, paragraph 3.
The recommendations of this report
No such Moratorium has been entertained by the Valencia Government. .
No such consideration to landowners has been given before, during or after. Cases are still being reported.
Yet the Valencian Authorities have done absolutely nothing on this issue.
A new delegation came in May 2005 and spoke to those directly affected. This time attended by Michael Cashman, 1st Vice Pres. Committee on Petitions, Ms Janelly Fourtou, Rapporteur & Ms Maria Panayotopoulos, 2nd Vice Pres. Committee on Petitions. They interviewed 1,000 or so people affected and met Snr Blasco (The minister responsible) and Snr Camps (President of the Valencia Community). A report has been issued to the Government in Madrid but lacks any bite.
I recently spoke via email to Michael Cashman MEP who said that the EU has drafted a further report which they will be submitting to the Valencian Government. He also mentioned the EU cannot impose a moratorium – even though he fully acknowledges that local governments are abusing the rights of EU citizens.
Even though the EU know the law is being flouted they are powerless to do anything.
The reason given is they do not wish to encourage a rush to develop urbanisations, but this is exactly what is happening right now - encouraged by the Valencia Government.
The Valencia Government is in the process of changing LRAU and replacing it with LUV (Ley Urbanistica Valencia). A new law it may be but it is riddled with problems leaving it more open to abuses than LRAU. A point Michael commented on when he said:
“The new replacement is frankly not good enough. It needs to be amended as it doesn't take on board the EP'S (European Parliament’s) concerns!”
More worryingly was his reply that the EU, “Cannot ensure no further abuses. But can constantly monitor the situation and take action under EU law and treaty obligations (ECHR). ”
Which begs the question what on earth can we do if the EU will not or cannot help us? It appears the developers and the town halls have time on their side – even if the EU can do anything - in Michael’s own words
“Process of law is unfortunately extremely slow even when it comes to abuse of EU laws”
In other words it takes such a long time for the EU to act that developments will have been long built and the companies long abandoned before anything can be done – and how do property owners seek redress? The answer is basically you are stuffed.
Is it all bad News?
Help is at hand in the form of a guardian angel. At the meeting on 20th September Hugh Robertson, a representative of the Law firm Irwin Mitchell, responsible for bringing large group action law suits, announced that his law firm had agreed to take on cases to the European Court Of Human Rights on a no win no fee basis.
ECHR usually only accepts cases which have exhausted legal procedures in their own country, but as Hugh stated, because this is practically impossible in Spain, he is confident these cases will be accepted immediately. The hope is that enough cases will be collected to provide a broad spectrum of abuses such that punitive damages may be obtained and urgent orders given to stop Land Grab activities whist the cases are heard.
This is great news because town halls may think twice about granting permission – especially if they may be liable to heavy fines – something which will hit the town halls hard and dare I say it the politicians personally.
It is also worth noting if an urbanisation is granted which hasn’t gone through due process then the town hall are held responsible for any damages – and the Mayor could be held personally liable, something which will hit his pocket. That may be enough to think twice about granting such permission.
How do you ensure you aren’t affected?
Very simply – don’t buy rustic land. Period! If you then don’t cry if you fall foul of LRAU. And DO NOT believe anyone who tells you it will never happen. It may not but will you take the chance. Even insurance companies will not give guarantees of title rights – something obtainable even in most 3rd world countries – but not in Valencia – this speaks volumes.
Is it worth investing in the Valencia Region?
The Valencia region, for all its woes, is a great region to live and/or own a holiday home. Whilst abuses have affected many, for everyone affected there are thousands more who have bought without problems. The region is still undergoing property rises – albeit slower than before but still a respectable 5-7% per annum. Providing you invest your money wisely and only buy an urbanised property your money should be safe.
So the advice is simple.
LRAU and its replacement LUV are an affront to human rights. Many have been affected and these cases are being highlighted in the EU courts, so hopefully one day the Law will be replaced by a much fairer one. Until that time you can ensure you don’t fall foul by only buying urbanised land using correct legal advice.
Special thanks go to Charles Svoboda and Jan Richards of the AUN http://www.abusos-no.org/
Also to Michael Cashman, MEP for West Midlands, www.michaelcashmanmep.org.uk.
If you have been affected or suspect you might be then contact either the AUN Irwin Mitchell, through their website www.irwinmitchell.com/valencia
Vince Barnes is the owner of http://www.SpanishProperty-Direct.co.uk – a website aimed at informing buyers about the process of buying in Spain and keeping up to date with news and regulations affecting the Spanish Property Market. He has also just published the book – “The Insiders Secret Guide To Buying A Property In Spain – The Book Estate Agents Don’t Want You To Read” – available at http://www.spanishproperty-direct.co.uk/book.htm