Dispute continues to rage in idyllic Spanish holiday town

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2004, 12:00am

Property experts and homeowners in the Spanish holiday town of Marbella are hoping for a quick resolution to a political conflict that has blighted thousands of homes and left building sites idle.

Many properties caught in the planning dispute between the local and regional authorities are owned by overseas investors and holiday-home owners.

According to estate agent Hamptons International, 28,000 homes are under dispute because they were built in line with Marbella town council plans that were rejected by the Junta de Andalucia, the regional body that has overall authority for planning. The two sides have formed a committee to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, the effect on the property market has been to make disputed homes unsellable and increase the value of unaffected properties.

Hamptons said the dispute had had a huge impact on the town because much of it had been built illegitimately. Francis Jacobson, Mar-bella-based company surveyor at Hamptons International, said: 'The population of Marbella is 116,000, not including holiday-home owners, but even if you had twice as many people, then 28,000 homes would still be a big figure.'

Every four years local municipalities in Spain must devise a plan that requires regional council approval. The dispute centres on Marbella's 1991 local plan, which redesignated some rural land as urban. After provisionally accepting the plan in 1995, the Junta de Andalucia officially rejected it three years later. Marbella's town council refused to accept the decision.

Builders carried on developing schemes in accordance with the 1991 plan assisted by lenient court decisions until last year, when the judiciary ordered them to stop.

Only those schemes that abide by Marbella's 1986 local plan, the last one to receive regional council approval, are considered legitimate. There is a caveat, however.

Under Spanish law, any building that is more than four years old is allowed to remain, irrespective of this type of dispute, which means a Marbella property built before 2000 is legitimate even if it does not comply with the 1986 local plan.

The impasse between the Marbella and Andalucia authorities was broken following the election of a new political grouping to the town council last year. The authorities hope their new joint committee will settle the matter by the end of next year.

'They are making great progress with the committee. The new town council is taking a much more positive approach. A lot of developments that have been constructed will have to be rubber-stamped by the committee. If they don't do that, that will create problems,' Mr Jacobson said.

'We are in limbo for 18 months. A lot of building work has been paralysed. There are buildings still unfinished, and properties that have been sold but are now described as illegal.'