Thousands of Britons with homes in Spain are living in fear of losing their properties because of rogue developers and lax government controls, a West Midlands MEP warned.
Michael Cashman, author of a damning report approved by MEPs in Brussels, hit out yesterday at controversial Spanish "land-grab" laws which have left foreign homeowners in the Valencia region facing huge bills and the loss of part or all of their properties.
About 760,000 Britons live in Spain. The Labour MEP has been championing the cases of 15,000 mostly British, Belgian, German and French property owners who petitioned the European Parliament for help.
After fact-finding trips to Madrid, Valencia and Andalucia, he said: "EU citizens who have bought property in good faith have had their dreams turned to nightmares and their land confiscated.
"Their basic rights are simply being ignored and the authorities don’t have the political will to deal with it."
He added: "These are people who have gone through all the correct procedures, to buy land or a property, only to find that what the developer has done is illegal. Others buy land for a holiday or retirement home, only to find it cannot be built on and is taken away.
"My message to Britons thinking of setting up in the Valencia area is not to think twice – think three times."
The long-running row is over a 1994 Valencia land and town planning law, under which the local authority has so far allowed at least 20,000 compulsory purchases.
The Spanish government says the aim is to ensure community development plans are not blocked by individual landowners.
But the law has been used to reclassify rural land as urban without the owners’ permission – effectively giving developers compulsory purchase rights on foreign-owned homes at a fraction of the market value.
Unscrupulous developers can claim back existing properties or portions of land and even charge the occupiers to contribute to the cost of installing roads and drains.
The rules were changed a year ago following an EU warning, but the European Commission says they still fail to protect citizens’ rights. A decision on EU legal action against Spain is likely soon.
Meanwhile, the report, jointly written with Polish MEP Marcin Libicki, will be discussed by MEPs in Strasbourg next month.
It says Spanish urban development often leads to "spoliation of community and culture, the concretisation of the coastline, the destruction of the fragile flora and fauna and the massive enrichment of a small minority at the expense of the majority".
As a result, it says, fundamental EU property rights continue to be undermined.
The contentious land laws can oblige property owners to "give up 10 per cent of their land without compensation, ostensibly for very ill-defined social purposes, and then make an arbitrary financial charge ... which can amount to tens of thousands of euros ... without consultation of those who own the land", says the report.
Local authorities "in some cases even claim to be unaware of the detail of the proposed developments which are to be built" – developments which will "drive roads through people’s rural homes or build new homes in people’s back gardens".
Mr Cashman told MEPs: "Despite promises, and the introduction of new complex laws, very few changes have taken place for the better, and many thousands are living with the sword of Damocles suspended over their home and their rights."