By Graham Govier
IF you thought you only found a glut of empty and overpriced developments on the coast you would be wrong.
Inland towns such as Fuente de Piedra, Humilladero and Mollina – to name just three – have a huge number of ugly and unwanted apartment blocks scarring their outskirts.
It all came about since 2007 when the local authorities – in a bid to milk the development cash cow – allowed the vast majority of these schemes to go up.
They didn’t actually think about demand for these ‘white elephants’. And the recession has only made them even less desirable.
I continue to ask myself why does greed always seem to outweigh every other human emotion, regardless of civic and moral responsibilities?
In inland Andaluicia – just as it happened on the coast – the local authorities, architects and developers colluded with the banks to allow it to happen.
Who would buy one of these cramped and pokey apartments?
But giving planning approval and finance for these developments has proved a grave error. Because who in their right mind would buy one of these cramped and pokey apartments, with their tiny terraces and neighbours sometimes less than two metres away?
And particularly now when you can get a four bedroom home and garden for the same price.
As a member of the PP party in Mollina, I have been campaigning since 2006 against these unnecessary ‘ghetto’ developments.
In 2001 when I started developing urban land, planning restrictions were logical and took into account their future impact on the environment.
At the time a minimum plot size of 200 square metres was the requirement to build a single or two-storey house, which was plenty.
But nearly every year since then, planning departments have eroded the minimum requirements to the extent that now just 70 square metres is required to build a house.
Even when property prices were rising, there was no justification for it.
From 2002 until 2006 my company built (and sold) 86 three and four bedroom properties. And while profit was of course the driving force, I took on board certain responsibilities regarding the environment, size and style of the homes.
I had a sense of civic responsibility. After all, I lived in the area.
This is why it makes me so angry to see these ridiculous projects.
Most of them are empty and many already starting to degrade.
The owners and the politicians have few clues what to do. In fact, half the time they look like frightened rabbits in the headlights when you ask them.
They know they have made a huge error.
After all, there are up to 1.5 million empty homes in Spain and house prices have fallen by up to 40 per cent over the last year alone.
These pokey apartments, which the banks have often lent money on to the value of up to 120,000 euros, are perhaps today worth just 60,000 euros.
And at that price there are still few takers. Because while there are quite a large number of smart buyers snapping up bargains, it is not these sort of properties they are after.
As one of the few remaining inland estate agencies, I steadfastly refuse to put these developments on my books.
When the local developers or banks ask me why, I tell them straight: ‘These homes are not sellable. Sorry.’
My solution would be for the Bank of Spain to negotiate the purchase of these failed projects with the relevant private banks and pass direct ownership to the particular local authorities.
Financing could be on an interest-only basis for two years and the properties could then be utilised for social housing.
And this does not mean ‘VPO’ (or first time buyer subsidised housing) but proper council housing for people who need it and right now there is no shortage of them.
Sure this might appear to be a move in the direction of socialism, but this is not the time to be playing politics.
To leave them unoccupied for much longer will see them dilapidate with even more expense required to make them habitable.
Meanwhile, the queue for social housing gets longer.
Perhaps if put under local authority care it might just force councils to review their planning policies and get back the civic responsibility that we demand from them.
And let’s not forget that 2011 brings local elections and an opportunity for change.
I just find it terribly sad that so far I have seen no political party coming up with any decent solution to the problem. Surely someone must see sense?