The Spanish land grab

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Spanish land grab

Britons dreaming of a happy retirement in the Spanish sunshine have been warned that they could fall victim to a scandalous land grab.

The mass seizure of land by property developers has been carried out in the autonomous region of Valencia, which includes the Costa Blanca.

One of the biggest illegal land grabs in Europe since World War II, it arises from the enforcement of a property law passed ten years ago to kick-start a programme of housing for low-paid workers.

It was also designed to foil speculators who paid very little for huge holdings of scrub countryside and cashed in when it was wanted for developments such as airports, schools or hospitals.

But after property prices soared in the late Nineties, developers in cahoots with corrupt local politicians started declaring the land attached to foreign-owned villas as needed for public benefit, forcing the owners to hand it over for nothing.

The law – which was only slightly improved in 2006 - decrees that if a rural area is re-zoned for building, the authorities can demand up to 70% of the land free - or, in some cases, paying only a tiny percentage of the market value. And the landowners can even be forced to hand over cash as well - supposedly to pay towards the development of the area which will 'benefit' them.

All any town hall has to do is proclaim the land is needed for 'public or social benefit'. There is no appeals process.

The Urban Development Activity Act contravenes European Human Rights legislation, but the Valencian government has chosen to ignore this fact – and the EU is powerless to intervene.

Foreign Office officials maintain that anyone thinking of buying property in Spain should take legal advice before putting pen to paper.

Otherwise they could suffer the same fate as many in the south of the country who have been forced to hand over their land - and in some cases even pay for the privilege.

Russell Thompson, the British consul in Alicante, has called for an immediate halt to the practice, which Spain has imposed in blatant defiance of international law.

He described it as 'a licence to print money using somebody else's paper and somebody else's ink'.

As a result an estimated 125,000 Britons who sold up to move to the area are, in the main, still waiting for their individual cases to be decided and live in fear of losing everything they own.


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