UNESCO affiliate demands disappearance of illegal urbanisations

LAST UPDATED: 2 Apr, 2009 @ 19:56
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A DAMNING report from a UNESCO advisory body has demanded that the 240 illegal houses on the protected Medina Azahara site in Córdoba should “be demolished.”
The International Council of Monuments and Sites (Icomos) published the report on November 14, asking the Junta de Andalucía regional government to commit to demolition works by the start of 2008.
Icomos is angry with both the regional and local administrations for allowing three housing developments to be built on protected land.
The land was reclassified in 2003 to ‘highly protected status,’ when the Medina Azahara was declared a contender for World Heritage status.
The heritage council insists that “any negative visual impact near to the basin of the site will negatively alter the value of the adjoining archaeological site.”
And for as long as the eye-sore that is the illegal developments remains, the UNESCO honour will not be granted.
Icomos also asked the Junta to pressure the Córdoba Ayuntamiento (City Hall) to “prevent the installation of basic services” to the illegal homes.
Stopping the connection of water and electricity to the developments is imperative for Icomos.
If basic services such as water and electricity are connected, the properties will be classed as “consolidated” homes rather than building sites and the process of demolition will be much more complex.
The three developments were built from the mid-1990s onwards without permits, but also without the explicit intervention of the authorities to stop building works.
Both the Junta de Andalucía and the Ayuntamiento de Córdoba have been criticised for their delayed response to the illegal constructions.
Between 1996 and 1999 the number of houses, intended as second homes, increased dramatically.
A plan was eventually approved in 1998 to protect the area by impeding further construction.
Now the administrations are lumbered with finding alternatives for the proprietors of the homes, which face imminent destruction.
In 2006, the president of the Junta de Andalucía, Manuel Chaves, promised that alternative properties would be offered to those affected.
The department of public works of the regional government responded to the report by promising that the housing developments would “disappear.” However, the Junta still has not given a concrete date for the start of the demolitions.
Newspaper El País, however, claimed that with regional elections around the corner, the regional parties did not want to become involved in what could be perceived as a vote loser in the Córdoba region.
This is not the first time UNESCO has ordered a local government to take action: they once persuaded the governing body of Castilla La Mancha to block the construction of 1,300 homes on the site of a Visigoth city in Toledo.

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