Law flouted as sprawl blights coast

4th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

4 December 2007, MADRID - More than a third of Spain's Mediterranean coastline has been engulfed by a sea of cement over the last two decades as unchecked construction of hotels, homes and tourist complexes has made a mockery of legislation intended to protect coastal habitats, a new study shows.

4 December 2007

MADRID - More than a third of Spain's Mediterranean coastline has been engulfed by a sea of cement over the last two decades as unchecked construction of hotels, homes and tourist complexes has made a mockery of legislation intended to protect coastal habitats, a new study shows.

According to the government-supported Spanish Sustainability Observatory (OSE), the limits on seafront building imposed by the Coastal Law of 1988 have been ignored in many areas where local councils and regional governments have placed more importance on the tourism and real estate sectors than on protecting the environment.

The 1988 law banned all building within 100 meters of the shore, and stipulated that buildings already constructed at less than that distance would have to be demolished by 2018. However, in the almost two decades since the Coastal Law was passed, the sea of concrete has spread rather than receded. Currently 36.52 percent of the first 100 meters of Spain's Mediterranean coast has been built on. Nationwide - including along Spain's stretches of Atlantic coast - the figure is 21 percent.

"Building has been intensive across the country, but especially on the Mediterranean coast," the OSE report states. In provinces such as Almería, Murcia and Alicante, numerous hotels and houses have been built too close to the shore. Work on some of them, such as one high-profile hotel complex in the Cabo de Gata national park in Almería, has been impeded by the courts, but often construction is allowed to continue unabated.

However, OSE director Luis Jiménez Herrero and Environment Minister Cristina Narbona, who presented the report yesterday, suspect that attitudes could slowly be changing. Jiménez noted, for example, that local authorities and the public are less willing to turn a blind eye to environmental offences, even at the expense of limiting tourism revenues.

"We are heading toward a more sustainable trend," Jiménez noted. Global warming, which is expected to cause higher sea levels in both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, is providing another impetus to rethink coastal construction.

Spurred in part by those concerns, Narbona announced in October a government plan to reclaim Spain's coasts. Under the proposal, the administration will seek to reach a "grand pact" with regional governments to launch initiatives not only to stop new construction but to demolish buildings that violate the Coastal Law. The administration has not ruled out using expropriations as a way of attaining the goal of stopping cement from blighting coastal areas. The cost of the initiative, which is likely to run for many years, is estimated at € 5 billion.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL. / Ángeles Espinosa 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

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