JANUARY 9, 2008. The date will forever be etched into the minds of those who have fallen victim to regional government’s drive to rid Andalucía of illegal housing.
It was on this day that the bulldozers moved in on Helen and Len Prior’s dream retirement villa in Almería. The married couple looked in on horror as their 250,000-euro home was reduced to rubble.
The demolition of the Priors’ home, which they claim was bought in good faith, was not the first home to face the wrecking ball in Andalucía. Just weeks before, five houses in Córdoba were knocked down after a court ruled buildings illegal.
The case of the Priors was the first, however, to gain blanket coverage in the world’s media. Now, everyone from the UK to India to Australia to the USA via Germany, France and Denmark knew of the problems of illegal housing and possible corruption in Andalucía.
The Priors, who have been living with all of their belongings in a garage (which avoided demolition) for the past 12 months, have since been fighting fruitlessly for compensation.
It was the Junta de Andalucía that revoked the building licence and ordered the demolition of the couple’s home. And since, the regional government has demanded the removal of thousands of other properties it deems illegal. From Chiclana in Cadíz, to Marbella, Mijas and the Axarquia mountain range in Málaga, through to La Alpujarra in Granada and the Almanzora Valley in Almaria, homeowners have been served demolition orders.
Yet still the Algarrobico hotel stands. This 411-bed unfinished tourist complex was being illegally built on virgin sands inside the Cabo de Gata Natural Park when a court ordered work to stop. The Junta itself promised to knock down this illicit building… in 2006. Three years later, it is still a blot on the landscape with the regional government doing what it can to legalise this monstrosity.
The Supreme Court has dismissed countless appeals by the the local town hall and the developers – Azata del Sol – that the complex is legal. Judges have even suggested that the Junta was complicit in the hotel’s construction, crudely falsifying documents with a biro pen to give the impression of legitimacy (Junta faces criminal charges over falsifying documents).
The regional government has denied these claims, but you cannot excuse those demonstrators in Almeria asking why their homes are living on borrowed time while that unfinished hotel is allowed to stand. And you cannot excuse their fury when the authorities are thrashing out multi-million-euro compensation packages with Azata while those whose homes are demolished are often left to foot the bill.
But it seems that the final nail is about to be hammered into Algarrobico’s coffin despite the Junta’s reluctance to act. In two legal rulings before Christmas, it was once again suggested that the Junta tried to legalise the hotel through the back-door. Judges said that revisions to the urban plans of the Cabo de Gata park were “illegal” and “devastating” for the nature reserve. There were also calls for an in-depth legal probe into apparent Junta collusion.
Then, the Supreme Court in Madrid threw out yet another Azata appeal. This was the developer’s eighth such contention.
And in another victory for democracy, a court at the weekend dismissed the developer’s demands that environmental group Greenpeace should stand trial for defamation and criminal damage. This was after activists entered the hotel in 2006, part demolished it and painted the obvious upon its facade: Illegal Hotel.
The Olive Press does not want to condone vandalism, but to Greenpeace we extend this message: Well done, lads. Your fight against the Illegal Hotel has been admirable.
Congratulations should also be extended to other groups that have campaigned against Algarrobico: Salvemos Mojacar, Salvemos el Parque and Ecologistas en Accion, to name but three.
To the PSOE-run Junta de Andalucía, we only have this to say this: Hang your heads in shame, you give socialism a bad name.