Bulldozing Homes in the Name of Coastal Protection Sparks Controversy in Spain

beach resort ibiza spain photo

A beach resort in Ibiza, Spain. Photo by ST33VO via Flickr.

Spain is taking what some call an extreme step to stem the rapid development of its popular coastlines: The country is bulldozing properties built too close to the seashore, angering homeowners, including many from other European nations who invested in vacation or retirement homes on the Mediterranean.Under the 1988 Coastal Law, the Spanish government controls a strip 106 meters wide along the country's entire coast. According to a 2007 report by the BBC, "The first 6 meters adjoining the beach are reserved for pedestrian and cycle access; while the following 100 meters are considered suitable for municipal leisure facilities, but not private homes."

Many Coastal Homes Declared Illegal
That has come as a surprise to many homeowners, especially non-Spainards, who, the BBC reported this week, "have discovered that properties bought legitimately through the Spanish legal system had, in fact, been built in breach of the regulations." Regional authorities in Andalucia, in southern Spain, have even applied the law retroactively to declare properties built before the 1988 statute was enacted illegal -- and vulnerable to demolition.

The issue has become a topic of debate in the European Parliament, where many deputies, from Spain and other countries, have criticized the law and accused Spain of providing no or insufficient compensation to homeowners whose houses are bulldozed.

It's easy to sympathize with the homeowners, especially if they are indeed being denied legal redress or compensation. (Spain says "owners of legally built homes are being 'fairly compensated.'") But just because the law seems to have been poorly enforced in this case -- by allowing the in-violation homes to have been built in the first place -- doesn't mean it was a bad idea.

Spain's Beaches Threatened By Urbanization, Climate Change
"Coastal regions represent just 7 percent of Spain's territory and yet are home to 44 percent of the population," the BBC noted in its earlier report. "In some communities, three-quarters of all land adjoining the coast has been urbanized."

The country's Environment Ministry has also estimated that Spain's beaches will shrink by an average of 15 meters by the middle of the century due to rising sea levels, making the coasts an even more precious resource.

"The last decade has seen the same number of new buildings as in the whole of our previous history," Maria Jose Caballero of Greenpeace told the BBC in 2007. "For years, people have thought they can build wherever they want along the coasts. We need to change that mentality."

More about coastal protection:
5 Beaches to Visit Before They Disappear
Ocean Film Fest 2010: The Battle Over Beaches in Puerto Rico
!F Film Festival: Black Sea Eccentric Fights for Coasts
Turkish Locals: No More Coastal Concrete Jungles!
Tourism Giveth and Taketh Away
The Year Ahead in 2008: Making Ocean and Coastal Conservation a Priority
Coastal Habitats Deemed Planet's Most Imperiled Ecosystems

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