Land-grab law: The fight back goes to court
Expatica reports on how the fight against Valencia's so-called land-grab law could be about to enter the courtroom.
Maureen Marsh may be one of the first to take the fight against Spain's notorious land-grab laws to court.
The retired secretary, who lives with her husband Michael in Albatera, near Alicante, is one of the first Britons to consider taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Marshes face a bill of EUR 126,317 for a 12 metre-wide road which would run through the land next to their three-bedroom home after surrounding land was 'grabbed'.
She was only allowed to see the plans which threatened her property after she finally wrote to King Juan Carlos.
The frontline: Albatera, where the Marshes' home is threatened by law
"We have put everything into this house, investing all our savings. I am sure this has taken some years off our lives."
British, French, German and Spanish homeowners who lost out under the law, are to claim their human rights have been abused by the Valencian authorities, who brought in the law, because they failed to respect their basic right to property.
The battle against the law will be joined on another legal flank.
The European Commission has also denounced the 'new' version of the land-grab law, introduced in February, for failing to abide by EC law – just as it did with the original version of the law.
The EC says the new law contravenes European law on individual property rights.
It gave the Valencia regional government two months to come up with good answers, or they could be hauled before the European Court of Justice.
And the EC has demanded answers about why no environmental studies were carried out on three major building projects, which took advantage of the 'land grab' law.
Valencia could face unlimited fines as, under EC law, every project worth more than EUR 6 million can only go ahead after an environmental study is carried out.
If Valencia still refuses to pay, the EC may threaten to withhold some of Spain's cohesion funding, the aid used for major development projects.
This would probably sting the Socialist Government in Madrid into bringing the Valencian politicians to heel.
But because Valencia is run by the opposition Right-wing Popular Party, political rivalries may mean the originators of the 'land-grab' law might still try to resist any pressure from central Government.
Against this background, campaigners believe Valencia's regional government has arrogantly paid no heed to threats from the EC and the European Parliament.
The godfather: Rafael Blasco, Valencian minister who defends land grab
The Ley Reguladora de la Actividad Urbanistica (LRAU) (Urban Planning Regulation Law), which became law in 1994, allows developers to compulsorily purchase homes and re-designate for rural land for urban development.
Originally, it was designed to stop speculation by developers who would hold on to rural land until the price went up.
But, according the European Parliament, it has been manipulated by ruthless developers who simply ask local authorities to reclassify rural land as 'urban'.
The developers then force homeowners to pay for amenities like roads, lighting, sewage or water supplies.
Some of these homeowners, because they retired to Spain, cannot meet bills of tens of thousands of pounds, and are forced to sell up.
Under mounting political pressure, the Valencian regional government amended the LRAU which became the Ley Urbanistica Valenciana (Valencian Urban Law or LUV).
This extended the consultation period in which affected homeowners can object to a compulsory purchase from 20 days to three months.
It did not change the power to re-designate land, which is widely perceived as hugely favourable to developers.
Charles Svoboda, president of Abusos Urbanisticos No (No to Urban Abuses), a group of campaigning homeowners who oppose the law, claims things are actually worse under LUV.
"If the town hall ignores a complaint, then an application is automatically approved," he said.
"And they do not have to build on the land they have 'grabbed'. They can just borrow money against it – though they have only bought it at cheap rates as it was classified before as rural."
Rafeal Blasco, Valencian land minister, denied claims the law was unfair.
He said: "The new law guarantees a transparent process with all the guarantees for the property owners."
Subject: Spain, land-grab law