By JAMES CONEY for The Daily Mail
THE retired expats whose Spanish homes now may be demolished are the victims of corruption on a monumental scale.
I can imagine that many of those reading the plight of these buyers would think they had it coming.
Many will probably say they should have done the proper checks, were naive and even greedy.
It’s certainly true that some were too trusting – a fact many readily acknowledge. They put faith in local estate agents, lawyers, developers and officials, without realising that these groups were often all in cahoots.
They weren’t trying to make a fast buck, but had given up their life in the UK and moved away from their families to live in a country whose culture and climate they loved.
They weren’t leeching off the local economy, they were adding to it. Around a million homes in Spain were built without proper planning permission.
It wasn’t just Brits caught out by the property scandal; it’s possibly more than half a million Spaniards, plus tens of thousands of Germans and Dutch.
And, as we reveal in our four-page special investigation, even the Spanish government doesn’t seem to know which properties are legal and which aren’t, such is the confusion over how building licences were granted.
With the UK’s onerous planning laws, it is hard to imagine how such a situation can arise. Now vast swathes of these homes are threatened by demolition.
It’s difficult to see how the random and heartless destruction of people’s homes is going to make life any better for anyone.
If the intention is to return some of the protected land back to its former state, the Spanish government shows no signs of doing this.
If it’s to teach someone a lesson, then who? It’s not the crooks paying, it’s the innocent victims.
Some developers, town mayors and local officials have been prosecuted for allowing building on land which was protected.
But many have escaped fines and compensation they were ordered to pay by going bankrupt. They often still live in the community – among people whose lives they ruined.
There is no winner here. And if the Spanish authorities want to restore faith in their housing market, they are undermining these efforts by this mindless cycle of destruction.
They’d be better off ensuring those at fault are never in the position to do this again, and leave the victims to get on with their lives.
Currently, there is nothing many of the expats can do. They are too honest to try to sell their homes to other unwitting buyers. And, besides, many of the villas are on building sites which have been abandoned for seven years – they’re hardly a tantalising prospect.
Many of these expats have good pensions, but would face a substantially poorer retirement if they had to move back to the UK and rent.
So, they live on and keep fighting the Spanish authorities for justice, never really knowing whether today, or tomorrow, may be the last they spend in their home.