Land grab: taking the fight to the top

26th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

Campaigners fighting Spain's notorious land-grab law are putting on the pressure. And ambassadors from 17 European countries have written a formal letter to Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero demanding action. Graham Keeley repo

It is an old Spanish joke, but they say at election time you should simply miss out the politician and vote for the property developer.

Charles Svoboda (left) and Roy Perry MEP, chairman of the EU petitions committee

So far, the property developers appear to have the upper-hand in a long-running battle over Spain's so-called land-grab law.

But campaigners, who still have some faith in Spanish politicians, took their fight to the top, with a formal letter from ambassadors from 17 European countries to prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The letter demanded Zapatero take a stand to reform this law, which was condemned in July in a highly-critical report by MEPs.

The letter came from ambassadors from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden and United Kingdom.

It read: "We are writing to you to seek your help in the possible reform of the "Ley Reguladora de la Actividad Urbanística" No. 6/94 (LRAU) of the Valencian government.  This law is affecting a considerable number of our citizens, as well as Spanish nationals.

"The apparent abuse of legality is under scrutiny by members of the European Parliament and the media in numerous Member States.

"This fact could have negative consequences on the reputation of Spain in general, and of Valencia in particular, as a risk-free place to invest in property.

Urbanisations are being built on the 'confiscated' land

"The harmful application of the LRAU has a number of different aspects.  It affects the protection of the right to property, to be informed properly and to be heard, to have recourse to justice and to obtain fair compensation."

So far, Zapatero has yet to respond.

But campaigners are hopeful that the Spanish government cannot simply ignore the problem any longer.

Charles Svoboda heads the campaign against the land-grab law, which supporters claim has robbed thousands of householders across Spain — both expats and Spaniards — of their properties.

"I think this letter is going to rattle a few cages and will bring a lot more support at the level of the European Parliament," says Svoboda.

"They have gone for the head honcho here who cannot ignore a letter of this kind."

Abusos-Urabnisticos-No (No to Urban Abuses), the campaign against the land-grab law, is fighting the regional government in Valencia, eastern Spain, which introduced the law ten years ago.

*quote1*The campaign has spread as other regional authorities have introduced versions of the same legislation, from Andalusia in the south to Catalonia, in the north-east.

The report by MEPs to the European Parliament attacked "serious abuses" committed under the terms of what it called this "surrealistic" law.

Detailing the experiences of scores of "victims", the report said: "The law has led to serious abuse of the most elementary rights of many thousands of European citizens by design or deceit."

The law not only allows developers to expropriate part of an owner's land or house, but also means that they can, in effect, charge them for doing so.

Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

This is permitted under the Urban Planning Regulation Law (LRAU), which allows land to be confiscated in order to "urbanise" rural areas by adding infrastructure like roads, lighting, water pipes and sewerage.

Often homeowners have these new "facilities" already – or do not want them. When homeowners cannot pay, they are sometimes forced to sell up.

Local councils reclassify land as urban as opposed to rural and building restrictions are lifted. On occasions threats have been accompanied orders to hand over land.

But Svoboda is poised to announce Friday a British law firm will represent victims who are to take their test cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

These cases will claim the Valencian government and the developers have failed to respect their basic ri

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