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05/05/2011 - Home Fires Burning

SPANISH GOVERNMENT Minister Jose Blanco ignited an explosion of protest by touting the country’s property market as a safe investment during a London Road Show.

Tens of thousands of victims of property abuses during the boom years – many of them British expats - were “appalled” to hear Spain heralded as a safe bet for property buyers.

Mr Blanco, minister of public work, transport and housing, was at the start of a European tour and an initiative to attract new money into the Spanish dream.
Clutching a government printed ‘bible’, a ministry information guide to ‘Safely Purchasing a House in Spain’, the politician claimed the road show would “highlight the strengths of our economy, transparency and legal certainty of our planning legislation.”
The minister said it was an “ideal time” to invest and reduce housing stock standing empty with a significant drop in prices but with all the competitive advantages of the country still in evidence.

However, the sales pitch made no mention of the problems of illegal homes innocently purchased from corrupt and greedy developers, the retrospective use of the Law of the Coasts to outlaw existing buildings, or the controversial planning legislation like Valencia’s notorious ‘land grab’ laws.
More than 30% of people investing in Spanish property are British – many have had no problems – but thousands are fighting for justice and for Madrid to take action over the estimated 1 million illicit homes throughout the country and mainly in hotspots like Valencia.

Individual victims are backed by protest groups, MPs and MEPs of all political colours, and the European Parliament – the last report calling for EU funding to be frozen until Spain took action to address the scandal.

In an open letter to Mr Blanco, MEP Michael Cashman asked if the minister intended to address the problems of property owners who “after having legitimately acquired homes with proper legal advice and green lights from officials, mayors, lawyers and developers, have been evicted and their houses and life savings demolished with absolutely no compensation.
“In the case of the LRAU, some have received bills of up to 70,000€ or even 300,000€ to fund new urban developments, consequently setting them up for financial ruin.”

Mr Cashman said he was eager to learn of the promised measures to safeguard foreign investors’ legal concerns. “What about those who have already invested and who, faced with the uncompensated loss of their property, have found absolutely no results through the Spanish legal system?”
He concluded that he trusted the overall outcome of the road show would be to “bring a light of hope to all these victims.”
And MEP Maria Andreasen, of UKIP, commented: “It’s inconceivable that anyone would want to invest in property in a country that has shown itself to be lawless when it comes to property rights.”

An online petition to British Minister for Europe David Lidington is also gathering pace as victims call for the Spanish property investment road show to be halted until Madrid can show it has put its house in order.
The petition calls for the MP and the government to confront Spain to end years of abuse. It ends: “Mr Blanco, representing his government, should not be encouraged in this country until he can show a clean pair of hands.”

Charles Svoboda, a veteran campaigner with the Benissa-based campaign group AUN, said the Spanish government guide “will not bring comfort to those already in the money trap that is Spanish real estate.”

He said it was the same basic advice followed by people who purchased property over the last 10 years. “Where has it got them? Ask the folks in Catral or Lliber. Those in Alicante or those on the Costa del Sol, or those affected by the Ley de Costas who are in a similar pickle.”
He said the guide failed to deal with the problems caused by land grab situations which were made under regional government rather than Madrid.
“Points about insurance cover and enforcing liability on builders seem hollow in the light of recent history regarding for example bank guarantees that have turned out to be worthless or false front developers who go bust or vanish when problems appear.”

Charles said the road show slogan ‘Look, think, invest, the Spanish real estate market is in your hands’ should be re-written: “Look often and elsewhere. Think twice and invest someplace where you can be sure it is wise to do so.”

Written By Jack Troughton-Round Town News