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11/03/2010 - Minister warns that demolitions are hurting the Spanish economy



A Foreign Office minister warned Spain on Sunday that knocking down British expatriates’ houses was hurting its economy. Chris Bryant, Minister for Europe, said that the country was undermining efforts to create a recovery in its beleaguered housing market. He was speaking yesterday during a visit to south-eastern Spain to meet British expatriates who have been told that their homes will be bulldozed after Spanish authorities declared their construction illegal.

The authorities there have been waging a campaign against former officials accused of allowing overdevelopment of coastal regions. Local governments issued building licences for the properties, but these were later nullified following court action instigated by a higher regional government. Mr Bryant cautioned: “The Spanish property market is not going to recover quickly if pictures of bulldozers knocking down expats’ homes are appearing in British newspapers.

Everyone I’ve spoken to in Spain says they want to find a solution but wanting a solution and getting one are two different things. He said: “Obviously it’s not for the British Government to tell the Spanish what to do. But I’m pushing the message hard at all government levels that I meet here that they have got to put political willpower into these problems, whether it’s an amnesty, whether it’s a change in the law, whatever the solution is that is needed. That is the point I am pushing.

I have to say also that there is an enormous difference between the Britons who just make a cursory legal deal – that is always ill advised – and those who have done everything they should or could have done but still find themselves in deep trouble.

Mr Bryant spent the weekend advising expatriates in Andalucia on issues ranging from property rights to health care. He visited Torrevieja, the fastest-growing town on the Costa Blanca, Malaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol, and the town of Albox, where eight British families are fighting demolition orders issued at the end of last year.

John and Muriel Burns were among the first to receive the demolition orders in Albox. The pensioners emigrated to Spain in 2001. “They did everything to dot the 'I’s and cross the 'T’s that they possibly could have to obtain the permission they required” to build their dream house, Mr Bryant said. But it turns out that the permission should not have been given. That was no fault of theirs whatsoever – but now they face the prospect of having their home demolished.

After hearing that his home would be bulldozed, Mr Burns declared that he and his wife would chain themselves to the house. “If this building comes down, then we will be underneath it,” he said.              Mr Bryant said he was able to tell worried Britons that the Andalusian regional government was appointing a full-time official to deal with the concerns of British expatriates. The official will provide advice on property regulations, health care and residence requirements.