Junta claim retirement villa built illegally on green-belt land
Andrew Lowrey in Vera
Len and Helen Prior stand on the site of their former dream home putting a brave face on the wreckage that regional politics and municipal corruption have made of their retirement.
Shortly after 3.30pm on January 9, the bulldozers turned up to demolish the Priors’ home, ironically called Tranquilidad (Tranquillity), just outside the Costa de Almería town of Vera.
Theirs was the first home to be pulled down in the area as a result of a crackdown on illegally built homes.
The Priors’ had bought the land in 2002 and – having secured all the necessary permits and permissions via the town hall – built their house in 2003.
All went well until May 2006 when they received notification from the regional government that the permissions had actually been awarded illegally and their 600,000-euro house could be demolished.
They immediately turned to local solicitor, Victor Muñoz and he engaged a litigation specialist in Madrid to fight the case.
As far as the Priors were aware, the case was currently proceeding through the courts.
But on December 16, 2007, they received another letter from the Junta de Andalucía informing them that the case had been heard; and demolition would take place on January 9.
No further appeals would be admitted.
At no point had the Priors, or their lawyers, been informed of the final hearing that decided the fate of their home.
The bulldozers duly arrived and the house was pulled down, making international news and sending yet more shockwaves around a region teetering on the edge of financial freefall.
There are six more homeowners in the town now expected to suffer the same fate.
The Priors are now living in a caravan loaned to them indefinitely by a local fairgound troupe.
They have been offered alterative accommodation by the town hall of Vera, but, for the time being at least, feel that they cannot leave their land as the outbuildings that remain contain all their worldly possessions.
Now, with the moral support of their neighbours, they are awaiting the outcome of a legal claim for compensation.
So far it is not clear if it is against the Junta, the municipality of Vera or the sellers of the land, upon which they insisted was permissible to build.
It has been a terrible experience for the two pensioners, originally from Berkshire, who moved to Spain to enjoy their retirement.
“We are still in shock,” Helen, 63, told the Olive Press this week. “I still cannot quite believe that they have done what they have done to us.”
Local campaigners believe there is a clear political element to the case.
One pressure group – Ciudadanos Europeos de Mojácar – believes the Priors have been caught in a political dispute between the socialist-led Junta and the town hall of Vera, led by the Partido Andalucista.
The group has now called for a demonstration on January 27 in support of the Priors and the other owners, who are a mix of Spanish, English and other foreign nationals.
A new committee has been set up to fight the other demolitions. One neighbour, Françoise Boulineau spoke of the shock felt by all the residents of the area.
“The general feeling is one of threat. Most people seem worried about their own homes.”
Friends Michael and Anna Sutton summed up the sympathy felt for the couple.
“It is beyond belief what has happened to them. If people who have done everything correctly can have their home destroyed then it can happen to anyone,” they told the Olive Press.