Costa del Sol fast becoming Concrete Coast

The Spanish coastline is turning into a concrete line of hotels and holiday homes overlooking a sterile, polluted sea, as galloping urbanisation is fuelled by corruption and speculation, Greenpeace has warned in an in-depth report.

With one-and-a-half-million dwellings and 300 new golf courses given the go-ahead just this year, the country holds Europe’s sad record for the fastest rate of coastal urbanisation.

Golf courses are a feature of most of new seaside developments, according to the report, which warns that “the construction of golf courses alongside dwellings should be prohibited when used as a tool of urban speculation.”

In the region of Valencia, for example, a third of the entire coastline is already built up. In Andalucia, home to the Costa del Sol, a quarter of the coast is already concreted over and the number of hotels has been growing at a rate of 29% between 2000 and 2004.

Two other statistics stand out in the report, entitled Destruction at all co[a]sts: the high level of corruption connected with coastal development – 102 corruption cases were recorded this year – and the fact that 13% of Spain’s wastewater is discharged untreated into the sea.

Juan Lopez de Uralde, executive director of Greenpeace Spain, blames the continuing decline on administrative disorder and inaction: “While the territory is being destroyed, those in charge of several public agencies continue discussing who is responsible.

“Eventually, it will not matter who is managing a territory that is left crushed and impoverished by the pursuit of short-term profit. But citizens are increasingly demanding well-preserved coasts and protection of the coast,” he said.

He quoted citizens’ protests against coastal construction projects, including the case of Valencia’s urban planning laws, where the European Parliament took the side of protesters.

“Why, we ask, there being a broad consensus among citizens about the high degree of degradation of our coastal line, no administration takes the need to put a stop to so much damage seriously,” he said.

By concreting over their coast, Spain is also harming its own tourist industry, Greenpeace said. As tourist numbers continue to fall for the third consecutive summer while many new hotels go up each year, lower financial returns from tourism should not be surprising.

The Greenpeace report calls on Spain’s Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce to take steps to “prevent the ruin of the [tourism] sector.”

Spain’s current legal framework on land use – the 1998 “ley del suelo” – poses few obstacles to re-classifying rural greenfield land for development. But the government has said it wants to make development of non-urban land much more difficult.

Apart from the effects on tourism, seawater quality and marine life, the pressure of new development on freshwater resources is a concern.

Despite the planned legal changes, Greenpeace warns that projects that have already been given the go-ahead may cause “irreparable” environmental damage.

Goska Romanowicz

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