Bulldozed: Britons' dream of Spanish sun turns to nightmare

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The Independent Online

Denis and Pat Archer bought a villa in Catral to start a new life in the Spanish sun. But now a civic corruption scandal may mean bulldozers destroy those dreams for ever.

They are typical of the hundreds of British expats whose homes may be torn down because they were built without planning permission. They all bought three-bedroom villas with swimming pools outside this town near Alicante, on the Costa Blanca. But the houses were built inside a nature reserve or on green belt land on the edge of this farming town.

The Valencia regional government has stripped Catral council of all its powers and threatened to dissolve the council over the scandal.

A court has launched an investigation into claims that builders bribed town hall officials to turn a blind eye to building laws and grant permission for the houses on green-belt land. Property certificates were also allegedly falsified.

Esteban Gonzalez Pons, housing director for the Valencian government, said: "The homes built on protected land inside El Hondo Nature Reserve will all be demolished. The future of the remaining homes will be studied on an individual basis."

In a warning to local authorities across the region, he added: "We will not hesitate in acting against other town halls that break the law, whichever political party holds power."

The villas cost on average €200,000 (£135,000).

Mr Archer said: "Our house was finished on time and was very nicely built. The problem our solicitors failed to notice was that neither our home nor the others on the complex had planning permission.

"The local town hall are now threatening to demolish the lot, leaving us to try to recoup our losses from the solicitor or the builder. Our dreams of a new life in the sun have turned into a nightmare."

Charles Svoboda, president of Urban Abuses No, a campaign group against property corruption, said: "This is a positive and overdue step towards eliminating the arbitrary tyrannical exercise of this sort of power by local administrations."

In March, the central government dissolved Marbella city council after the mayor, head of planning and 15 other officials and property developers were arrested in connection with a €3bn bribery scandal. Hundreds of British property owners in Marbella fear their homes may share the same fate as the expats in Catral.

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