Third of Lanzarote hotels illegal

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Court rulings could see some of island's most luxurious complexes demolished

18 March 2008

MADRID - A third of the most luxurious hotels on Lanzarote are illegal, according to a string of recent court rulings that are expected to lead to at least some of them eventually being demolished.

The rulings by the Canary Islands High Court affect 22 hotels and apartment hotels built under licenses issued by the town halls of Yaiza and Teguise in violation of a ban on new construction imposed in 2000. Combined, the hotels - eight of which are four or five star - offer about 15,000 beds, approximately 23 percent of all beds available on the island.

While conservationists and some island officials are trumpeting the rulings as a victory for the environment, others are concerned that demolishing the hotels will cost jobs, reduce tourism and cause further harm to Lanzarote's already flagging economy.

"These town halls broke the regulations we had imposed to preserve the island, which has been declared a biosphere reserve," notes Carlos Espino, a Socialist member of the island council.

Together with the César Manrique Foundation, a cultural association, the council brought the lawsuits against the hotels built in Yaiza and Teguise, including emblematic establishments such as the Princesa Yaiza, a luxurious five-star complex, and the nearby four-star Meliá Volcán.

The cases echo the drawn-out legal processes that led to thousands of apartments and dozens of hotels being declared illegal in Marbella, a sprawling resort on mainland Spain's southern Costa del Sol. However, as in Marbella, where years of unchecked construction have blighted a once-picturesque coastline, it is unlikely that the illegal status of the buildings in Lanzarote will be sufficient to have them demolished.

Though Espino stresses that there "will be no amnesty" and we "will tear down those that must go," he admits that in all likelihood that will not mean all of the complexes. In some instances, razing the buildings may do more harm than good, and in others the developers may be allowed to stop the bulldozers from rolling in if they cede land elsewhere as compensation. However, the buildings that most flagrantly violate the law will be razed, especially those built on beachfront land, officials say.

In the meantime, prosecutors have also launched investigations against the former mayors of Yaiza and Teguise who issued the illegal licenses between 1991 and 2004. Evidence suggests that, like in Marbella, they may have received substantial bribes from developers to break the rules.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / RAFAEL MÉNDEZ 2008]

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