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Spanish officials pledge to improve rights for property owners

José Ramón García Antón, head of the Valencia's Department of the Environment, Water, Town Planning and Housing, told Euro MEPs who are investigating property rights abuse in Spain that has affected thousands of property investors that reform will happen.

A report by MEPs that calls for Euro funding to Spain to be frozen until the laws are reformed, is due to be discussed in Brussels this week.

He told a delegation headed by Margrete Auken, a Danish MEP for the Greens and fellow MEP David Hammerstein, that the local government is committed to change.

Benjamin Muñoz, General Secretary of the Federation of Real Estate Developers and Urbanisers (FEPROVA), and Vice-president of the Association of Developers and Constructors of Spain also said that his organisation and members support proposals to improve the situation, to provide legal guarantees and to comply with town planning legislation.

But he hit out at media reports, especially in the British press, about property owners having their properties 'stolen'. He described such reports as 'works of fiction' and claimed that if there was any truth in them they would have come before the Spanish courts.

But groups fighting against the compulsory appropriation of property said there is no point taking legal action in Spain and the only redress for those who have lost or risk losing their property is through European institutions like the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament.

'The officials win because they have all the time and money they need to plead their case again and again. The victims cannot keep going for five or ten years against an adversary who holds all the cards,' said a spokesman for one of the groups, AUN.

The root of the problem was a badly drafted law in Valencia which not only allows developers to expropriate part of a property owner's land or house but also means that they can, in effect, charge them for doing so.

Typical is the case of Danny Loveridge, who retired to a 130-year-old farmhouse near the Valencian town of Benissa several years ago who lost £150,000 after developers moved in on his land.

'They took almost 75% of our land and gave us some other land that was worthless. They knocked down our kitchen and bathroom. There is now a roundabout where our swimming pool used to be and a bathroom fittings shop where our house was,' he said.

He was paid £8,000 in compensation, but was then forced to pay the developers £12,500 for the electricity, sewage, roads and other infrastructure for a proposed industrial estate. He was forced to sell what remained of a £260,000 property for around £100,000.