THE elderly British couple who have been living in a garage since their dream villa was demolished over so-called planning irregularities 13 years ago have finally won legal status for their property, meaning they can now be connected to mains water and electricity.
It has been a long battle for Len and Helen Prior who became infamous in 2008 when bulldozers were sent in by local authorities to flatten their villa in Vera, just inland from Almeria’s coast in Andalucia, over so-called “planning irregularities”.
But on Monday they finally got word that planning authorities had granted an AFO certificate for their property – the special licence issued in Andalucia to normalize properties built illegally on rural land.
For more than 13 years the couple have been living in the garage they converted into a living space after their €400,000 villa was reduced to rubble, using a noisy generator to power their home and bringing in bottled water.
“It’s a huge relief,” Helen told The Olive Press. “Hopefully we will be connected to mains services soon and then maybe we can get a proper roof in as at the moment every time it rains we run around with buckets to collect the leaks.”
“We never imagined we would spend all these years fighting for fundamental rights just to live in a garage,” said Helen, now 77, a grandmother of six and with three great-grandchildren. “We moved out here to have a peaceful rich retirement after working hard all our lives but ended up like this.”
Len, also 77, is recovering from life-saving open heart surgery. “We didn’t want to peg out and leave our children to deal with this mess, which is something that has been preying on our minds,” he admitted. “Now at least we could potentially sell the place or leave it to our children.”
Helen added: “When we heard the news we slept very well for the first time in a very long while.”
Their nightmare began one morning in January 2008 when they were given just a few hours to vacate their beautiful two-storey villa and save what belongings they could before the bulldozer was sent in.
Because despite having the correct planning permission issued by Vera town hall, the regional government of Andalucia had revoked the licence and ordered the villa to be torn down, although the garage was allowed to remain.
Len collapsed to the ground as he watched the destruction of the villa which they had named “Tranquillidad” in the expectation of the peaceful retirement they planned after selling up in Wokingham, Berkshire.
Instead they have spent their twilight years battling Spain’s complicated justice system while blame was passed between town hall and regional planning authorities.
Five years ago, the Priors won a hollow victory when a court ruled that their local town hall had been wrong to send in the bulldozers and ordered Vera council to pay them compensation of €425,185.43 plus interest.
However, the figure was barely enough to cover the legal costs they had racked up over their eight year battle, let alone compensate for the loss of their retirement dream.
The case made headlines both in Spain and Britain and the couple have been instrumental in ensuring that no similar fate will befall other homeowners.
In 2006 following a campaign championed by the Priors, Spain’s government introduced legislation to protect homeowners who bought in good faith from having their homes demolished until compensation was agreed in advance.
Gerardo Vazquez, a lawyer with AUAN, the pressure group representing hundreds of expat homeowners in the Almeria region whose properties have been declared illegal, has worked with the Priors since the very beginning.
“This represents a milestone, the end of an era,” he told the Olive Press. “It’s been a long journey from that image of Mr Prior collapsed on the ground at the shock of demolition to now, with what is left of that disaster finally regularised. At last this lovely couple can live with the minimum dignity of having access to electricity and water in the final stage of their lives, and that is an important change.”
“Now finally, let’s hope they get the tranquility they deserve,” he said.
- FINALLY! Planning amnesty for ‘illegal homes’ across Spain’s Andalucia stands after legal challenge dropped
- TORN DOWN: Illegal homes in Spain’s Andalucia targeted for demolition
- The Priors: How tranquility turned to tragedy