• A ray of hope for illegal home owners
• Government admits to problems with the regularization decree of 2012
• Announcement sparks widespread debate
News Digest, AUAN, 22nd September 2014.
The modification of the planning laws to regularize illegal houses announced last week by the President of Andalucía, Susana Diaz, has triggered widespread reaction and debate. Approval from the PSOE, doubts in IU, scepticism in the PP and criticism from the ecologists.
Cautious support from home owners
The announcement has lifted the spirits of foreign residents – many of them British – who have spent years dealing with the threat of demolition against their homes, built in areas such as Malaga and Almeria in locations where it was not permitted to build. The British groups AUAN and SOHA, who have long campaigned on this issue, welcomed the news. “At last the politicians are listening to us” said Philip Smalley president of SOHA. Speaking on behalf of AUAN its president, Maura Hillen, said “It appears to be a positive step… We only hope that the proposed change is appropriate and that it becomes law as soon as possible” adding “The facts are that there are at least 300,000 illegal houses in Andalucía. They cannot all be demolished and therefore solutions must be found. It is not acceptable to ignore these houses pretending that they do not exist because there are thousands of houses that may be affecting the environment that are currently not being recognised and regulated”.
Backing from the British Embassy
Echoing the words of the associations, the British Embassy described the news as a ‘sensible first step’ and went on to press the government for further changes to help those with properties already in the courts or facing demolition orders.
Ecologists in action oppose the move
Representatives of Ecologists in Action have rejected the move stating that it ‘opens the door to legalizing everything built on non urbanizable land” and stating that the change is as a result of ‘election promises made to planning delinquents who have had various meetings with the Junta”.
What is to be changed?
The Environment Ministry has stated that the planned change to the LOUA is merely an extension of the Regularisation Decree which was approved by the Junta in 2012 with the intention of providing solutions for up to 300,000 illegal houses. According to the Ministry the decree of 2012 established a path to legalisation for illegal houses in ‘urban settlements’ and ‘scattered hamlets’. The third type of ‘isolated’ illegal housing, which does not fit into either of the previous categories, was offered the prospect of ‘regularization’.
But the decree failed to consider isolated houses constructed on ‘parcelaciones urbanisticas’ or rustic land that was divided for the creation of building plots. These properties were excluded from regularization because article 185 of the planning law (LOUA) stipulates that this planning infraction is never proscribed from prosecution even if all other infractions affecting the property expire after six years.
The government intends to change article 185 of the LOUA to assign a proscription period of six years to illegal land divisions thus allowing the properties within them to become regularized but not legalized. The owners will have the assurance that their properties will not be demolished unless they are already the subject of criminal or administrative proceedings or already have a demolition order. Speaking on behalf of the Ministry, the General Secretary for Planning, Nieves Masegosa, gave assurances that the change would only affect the issue of isolated buildings, not large urbanizations which must follow the path to legalization set out in the decree.
The ‘regularization’ of isolated properties since the inception of the decree has been very low with government sources indicating that only 200 properties out of an estimated 300,000 illegal properties have been regularized since 2012.
Who will benefit?
The government estimates that 25,000 properties will benefit from the change. The Mayor of Albox, Rogelio Mena, states that 500 properties in his municipality will be ‘saved’ by the proposed change, a figure representing virtually all of its illegal properties. In contrast, the planning councillor for Chiclana claims that only 2% of its illegal properties will benefit from the change, some 300 properties.
Responding to pressure from the Town Halls
In addition to the home owners associations, much of the pressure for change has come from the regions Mayors. In municipalities of four of five thousand people with hundreds of illegal houses, the issue can influence how residents vote. And foreign residents can vote in the municipal elections in 2015.
What happens next?
According to AUANs President, Maura Hillen, ‘The text of the proposed change is already in circulation. It will now be subject of rigorous testing by the legislators and various interest groups. The homeowners associations will now do their best to insure that what is approved is fit for purpose and made law in the shortest possible timeframe, before the municipal elections. ‘