Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chaos On The Land

Chaos. It's an overused word but its overuse is understandable. More or less anything which moves, stands still, communicates, is displayed, is built, is decided upon is subject to the chaos that ensues from Balearics law-making. Chaos. It exists everywhere. In schools, in apartment blocks, on land. It is the chaos of confusion, lack of clarity, ill-defined drafting, lack of attention paid to existing legislation or of decentralised interpretation, further regulation and approval. Chaos.

The C-word was being thrown around at a meeting at the university over the weekend that was attended by the technical people at town halls and the islands' councils who will have the task of making sense of the new Ley de Suelo, the regional government's land law. It is meant to come into force later this month. There isn't a cat in hell's chance of a key element of this law being enforced so soon. It could take one, two years. Perhaps never. The current legislature will have finished by the time that procedures are such that implementation might be possible, and by then, who knows? Another government, a different complexion, an alternative law or a conflicting interpretation of this new one. You can already hear the sound of the secretaries at the Balearics High Court or the regional Consultative Council madly scribbling in dates for arbitration, ruling and legal opinion for the the next several years.

The key element is the amnesty on illegal buildings on "rustic" land in the Balearics. In theory this amnesty seems straightforward. A "pardon tax" will be paid to make the property (of older than eight years) legal. It will amount to 15% of value in the first year of the law's application (25% in the second year). But while the law may have come into force on paper, it will not have done in practice. When might the first year begin, therefore? From 29 May or from when local authorities have finally managed to themselves apply it, assuming that they ever do?

Planning decisions, which would now include signing off on the amnesty, are made not by regional government but by the town halls. They, however, have to wait for the islands' councils to get their regulatory bottoms in gear, formally adopt the law and set out its implementation. Each of them could implement the law differently. It seems insane but it is quite possible that a property in Mallorca, which is granted the amnesty, would not be were it in Menorca. Why?

That's because Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera are likely to be more restrictive than Mallorca. They will in any event be more restrictive in the meantime, as they will continue to apply an existing and old law - that for rustic land which dates back to the mid-1970s. But once they get round to introducing the new law, they can adopt more restrictive measures because they have it within their constitutions to do so. In one way it's not a bad thing, as the main reason for the existence of the councils in Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera is a check against Mallorcan dominance and Mallorca-led legislation. In another way it's not a good thing, as it creates confusion because of differing interpretations.

Of the four councils, only Mallorca has thus far started the drawn-out process of putting procedures in place, ones which, once the councils have done their part in writing them down, are then handed over to the town halls for their consideration, comments, amendments, changes. This is why it is highly unlikely that the new law will be fully implemented before the swearing-in of the next regional government, and were that to be something other than the Partido Popular, it might just kick the amnesty into touch. Chaos indeed.

While the amnesty seems to be a pragmatic solution to the problem of all the illegal buildings, it can also be seen within the context of the PP government's desire to mollify discontent out in the "part forana" sticks. It is partly a political amnesty, therefore, even if it appears, indeed is, sensible. But it is far less sensible if all it achieves is the chaos which is being predicted and the inevitable demands made on court time.

It might also be considered somewhat hypocritical. 30,000 illegal buildings on rustic land. 40,000 perfectly legally built apartments in tourism areas. The former are given an amnesty. They may possibly be converted into rural tourism accommodation, thanks to the permissive regulation of the 2012 tourism law which envisages greater rural tourism. The latter? 40,000, 30,000, it doesn't really matter. Let's just say that there's a lot. A lot of properties which exist beyond the law because the government refuses to bow to common sense and apply similar permissiveness to that which is being rolled out on the estates of rural Mallorca.

No comments: