Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Land Mass: Mallorca's land legislation

During the course of the current legislature in the Balearics, new laws have been approved for land, farming and mining. They have something in common in that farming and mining are both to do with land. Yet, there are three separate laws, two of them emerging from one ministry - environment, agriculture and land - and the other from a different ministry, that for the economy and competitiveness.

It is normal for different government departments to take responsibility for drafting different pieces of legislation, but when three separate laws all have to do with the same thing - land - might it not be preferable, in terms of joined-up government, for one department to oversee them? The three laws don't necessarily compete with each other, but it is just possible (probable) that they might. The land law is principally concerned with rural land - it's the one which has applied an amnesty on thousands of illegal buildings. Farming, quite obviously, is a rural activity, and provisions under its law include changes of use both of buildings and land. The mining law limits quarrying and imposes stipulations as to the recovery of quarries before a new one can be opened; this means the recovery of rural land.

To these three laws can be added the tourism law. It also deals with rural land, being permissive in terms of tourism accommodation in the countryside. The land and farming laws are also permissive. They may all theoretically be designed to strip away obstacles, but there is a key word here. It is "all". And "all" has a habit of creating legislative confusion or contradiction.

It is also, unfortunately, normal for governments to indulge in the practice of hyper-lexis. They suffer from legislative hyperactivity, causing those who are supposed to apply the laws to fall foul of attention deficit disorder. The disorder comes about because anyone expected to interpret these laws and to ensure that they don't potentially conflict with each other ends up with their attention in deficit. They give up even trying to marry the pieces of legislation together.

The laws are one thing. Quite another is the raft of plans which apply to land and which are either the product of fertile minds at the regional government or at the Council of Mallorca. These plans have legal clout, too. Or they would have if they were generally applied or fully understood. Put the laws together with the plans, toss into the mix the competences that town halls have for planning matters, and the result is a total mess of incomprehension which keeps the Balearics High Court in regular session. It appears to be the only body which can make sense of all this legislation, but even its opinion is subject to challenge and alternative interpretation.

To give just one recent example of how the Court has to get involved, the hotel development by Es Trenc has been put on indefinite hold by the Court because one of the plans, known by its acronym PTM - yes, it one for Mallorca's land - is not legally drafted in a way that permits the development. The Council will have to revise it, and once it has done so, the chances are it will all end up back in the Court once more.

President Bauzá has said that he would like to reduce the Council's responsibilities to no more than a technical and advisory role for town halls. God forbid. If the Council can't get its own plans in order, what hope is there for the town halls? But they need some help because they are the ones which have been most afflicted by the attention deficit disorder caused by land legal mania in the Balearics.

It would seem that, though it is ten years old, only four town halls have complied with PTM. Another land law - that to do with natural spaces - was introduced in 1991. Twenty-one town halls out of 53 in Mallorca have still to adopt it. Of POOT, the plan which sets out land for tourist offer by municipality, half the town halls haven't bothered with it, despite it having come in seventeen years ago in the same year as the law for "rustic land", one that bears, if only by title, a striking resemblance to the land law passed during the current legislature and which has, strangely, been described as the first such law in the Balearics.

Is it any wonder that these plans are not implemented? Is it any wonder that projects regularly end up with courts having to make a decision? Is it any wonder that some projects never get off the ground because the legal web is so tangled by laws which add to previous ones and by plans which may or may not be consistent with laws? The consequence is stasis, i.e. nothing happens, because no one has the faintest idea what it "all" means.

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