Castilla & León Reclassifies 28,315 hectares of Buildable Land Back to Rural Use

6 October 2018 – El Confidencial

Torquemada in Palencia has 989 inhabitants and sufficient buildable land on which to construct 162,000 homes. Coca in Segovia has 1,863 inhabitants and sufficient buildable land on which to construct 114,000 homes. Valladolid capital has 299,715 inhabitants and sufficient land on which to construct 217,293 new homes. They are just three simple examples of the urban planning absurdity seen in recent decades that is still present in almost every municipality in Spain.

Since the 1980s, and especially since the beginning of this century, town halls, in particular those in rural areas, have reclassified thousands of hectares of rural land to buildable land, on mass, in the hope that, during the boom times there would be a bureaucracy saving for the property developers, which would encourage them to invest, in both homes and industry. But the bubble burst (…) and thousands of buildable hectares were left over, converted today in a kind of weird joke.

Now, the Junta de Castilla y León wants to recover all of that land to return it to what it always was, agricultural and forestry land without any pretensions of being home to long rows of terraced houses or enormous industrial estates. The regional government has established three phases for the change of its land uses on mass.

It undertook the first phase in 2016, converting 10,000 hectares, and on 18 October this year, it will undertake the second phase, affecting 28,315 hectares, equivalent to half of the island of Ibiza or more than half of La Rioja. In total, 87 municipalities including several provincial capitals with capacity for one million potential homes that will now never see the light. The final mass change is planned for 2022. Goodbye then to the reckless optimism of the past; hello to a different future, one characterised by depopulation, which threatens to erase thousands of towns from the map (…).

“This is not Marbella, it was never realistic to think that large companies or property developers were going to come here to build homes. We have an industrial estate with five companies and we have lost 100 inhabitants in the last five years. A town cannot work miracles”, explains Jorge Domingo González, mayor of Torquemada, the rural municipality most affected by this second wave, which will modify 208 areas in Castilla y León (only 45 of them are industrial plots of land) on the basis of the urban planning law approved in 2014. “All of that land was reclassified not to build homes but to facilitate investment (…)”, explains the mayor of Torquemada.

Even so, many mayors did take advantage of the change to approve large residential developments, always under the suspicion, and sometimes rightly so, that they were going to be built with the sole objective of speculation and receiving an illegal bonus. That is where hundreds of ghost urbanisations in the middle of nowhere stemmed from; many are half-built, some even lack roads, but all have now been converted into a burden for municipalities, which do not have enough money to demolish them (…).

The town halls will not see any great benefits from this measure, but the owners of the land will do, since they will save a decent amount by no longer having to pay IBI (property tax) on urban land but having to do so on rural land, which is much cheaper. “In this way, we avoid uncertainties that have no sense in being maintained”, said Marinero…..

There is no record of any owner submitting claims against this change of use, although they have had four years to do so. That in itself is a clear sign that times have changed and that no one in the towns expects to win the lottery. If anything, they now just dream of not disappearing, to avoid being dragged away by the rural exodus.

Original story: El Confidencial (by David Brunat)

Translation: Carmel Drake

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