The march, in support of those who have homes under the threat of demolition by order of the Junta de Andalucía, took place on Wednesday the 17th of March in Malaga. Groups of foreign and Spanish residents with homes built in rustic areas descended on the Plaza de la Marina, to protest about their situation, on the first day of a European Union summit of ministers of regional policy.
More than a thousand people of different nationalities, including British, Danish, Scandinavian, German and Spanish nationals were in attendance. The protesters included many who bought homes in the Guadalhorce Valley and the Axarquía a number of years ago, “without knowing that one day they would be declared illegal,” according to Phillip Smalley, President of Save Our Homes (SOHA-www.soha.es).
The protest was opened with three speeches, the first made by Smalley, who pointed out that for lots of people, the home affected was to be their last, as many were elderly. These were homes built on rustic land over the last ten years in the main, the vast majority with licenses, taxes paid and properties officially registered. He cited the figure of 50,000 properties which are potentially under threat in the Malaga area alone, with many more throughout Spain affected. Smally estimated that the money bought into the economy by foreign nationals alone could amount to 5,000 million euros per year, and with money spent by their visitors this figure could increase to 7,000 million. The Junta, he stressed, was by its actions killing ‘the goose which laid the golden egg.’
“The Junta de Andalucía is responsible for this situation, and we can’t just stand by and watch it happen. We have had years of listening to promises that the situation will be resolved, and that it is being considered on a case by case basis, but meanwhile we are seeing many houses being declared illegal and demolished by court order. We will not allow this. We believe that the Junta is acting too slowly in addressing the problem, because we all purchased in good faith, and no one told us that our homes were illegal,” said the Brit, who owns a house declared subject to planning irregularities in La Viñuela.
Three requests made by the protestors, to be confirmed in a letter after the protest, were: that no new demolitions be ordered and fines retracted; if demolition was unavoidable, compensation and alternative accommodation be provided in advance; and, since the Junta had stated that the majority of properties affected could be legalised, that this process be put in motion without further delay. The protesters have expressed the opinion that by its actions, the Junta has shown that it is operating a policy of punishing the innocent victims of unscrupulous developers, politicians, lawyers and notaries. The march included the slogan “Punish the guilty, not the victims.”
The statement was then repeated in Spanish by Mario Blancke from Alcaucín, who confirmed that thie issue affected Spanish nationals just as much as immigrants.
The final speech was made by Marta Andreasen, MEP for the South-East of England, and for the EDF (association for freedom and democracy) who has previously challenged Presient Zapatero over the issue in the EU parliament.
She confirmed that his response to her questions was that although he was ‘sensitive’ to the issue, this was a matter for the regional, not the national government. Andreasen said she would use her right to reply to these statements at the closing of the parliament in June, but she also intended to call for a debate on the matter, and urged people to lobby their MEPs, in order to get all political parties to act in insisting on the debate, and also for the victims to to get their legal advisers involved.
Andreasen said that she had always stood against fraud and corruption, and that she believed it was corruption which was behind the problem here. She stated that the Spanish national government was responsible, since they had delegated planning authority to a very low level of government. Furthermore, the Coastal Law, which had been brought in to some of the actions, was a national law.
She said that she is also a member of the European Parliament’s Budgeting Control Committee, and is seeking the withholding of funds to the Spanish governemt until they try to resolve the situation.
Steve Wood, who has a house under threat in La Viñuela, and who is membership secretary for SOHA, which has around 300 members, said “The Junta seems to be digging its heels in over this issue. The vast majority of those affected are elderly people who need a quick solution.” His sentiments were echoed by friend and neighbour Peter Jensen, a Danish citizen who also has a home under threat.
Similar associations from Almería, Valencia, Cártama and Mijas also attended. Dave and Pauline Sims from Arboleas, in the Almanzora Valley, are also living in an area under threat. “There have been eight demolition orders and we were told there would be compensation, but nothing has been forthcoming,“ Dave commented. They are members of another group set up to publicise their plight, ‘Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No’ (www.almanzora-au.org).
Roger Roberts and his wife live in an area under threat. “We just don’t know what the future holds for us,” Roger said.
Ken Westall from Partaloa, Albox, said he was told his house was illegal, as it was ‘fuera de ordenación’ or outside of the planning order, even though the area has never had a general plan. This was six months after it was built, despite having paperwork, including documents stamped by the school of architects and a notary.
The supporters ended the protest with a march, sporting banners and whistles, and distributing leaflets, from the Plaza, passing through Calle Marqués de Larios and ending back at the Plaza de la Marina.
In response to the protest, the head of Andalucía’s Housing and Planning department Juan Espadas called on the owners of threatened houses to be patient and not exert pressure, saying that there are no mass demolition orders but “illegal situations cannot be wiped out with the stroke of a pen, just like that”.
Failure to pay compensation leaves couple homeless
Helen Prior and her husband are former owners of Casa Tranquildad in Vera, which was pictured as the beautiful home they had lost on the placard she carried to the protest. Their home was demolished in January 2008, and they are still awaiting compensation ordered by a constitutional court, whose officials have stated that the original court decision that the house should be demolished was illegal, as all proceedings had taken place in secret, contrary to international law.
The local authorities were now back in court, as they had been ordered to pay compensation and find alternative accommodation for Helen and her disabled husband, but had not complied. In the meantime, the couple are living in their garage. She is unsure why they were targeted, as other houses around have been left standing.