The golden rule in Spanish planning law

During all the years I have practised as an architect, I have experienced all kind of personal anecdotes. I have classified these experiences in files, named as amusing, serious and frightening. This particular one that I am about to tell you has been transferred, as time passed, from the frightening file into the amusing file, although I can assure you at a time it was at the very top of the frightening one.

During the years I worked as Town Hall Architect, my duties among others were, to prepare technical reports to allow the Town Planning Councillor to grant building licences, planning permission etc. But there was a task that nobody informed me about at the commencement of my appointment.

The Town Hall Secretary, (a gentleman always dressed with black suits, immaculate white shirts and questionable colour ties) informed me very soon after my arrival, that I had to carry out the supervision of all the Planning Units of the Municipality as delegate of the Town Hall, attending all meetings they held, and this was obligatory because always has been done so there, of course I did not dare to contradict him.

My obligation was to supervise the planning procedure carried out by property developers or individuals on the borough, with the aim of maintaining a degree of fairness between private and public interests. See that no one took advantage of any one and in fact to try that the members of whatever Planning Unit comply with the golden rule in Spanish planning law which stipulates that “there should be a fair distribution of charges and benefits among those participating in the planning procedures”. A noncompliance of this rule could well invalidate the whole planning process. This must be remembered by anyone involved in whatever planning procedure here in Spain.

One day during the public visiting hours at the Town Hall, came in to my office a middle aged, corpulent Spanish man and without saying hello plummeted down on a chair in front of my desk looked resolutely into my eyes and spouted out with a strong Murcian accent:

“I have worked very hard to acquire a plot of land situated in the “X” Planning Unit of this town which is going through some planning nonsense. I have been told, that due to, I don´t know what planning law, I will have to transfer the ownership of nearly fifty percent of my land to the Town Hall is that right?”

Silently and diligently I opened my “X” Planning Unit file, asked his name, looked at the names list, looked at the percentage of land that had to be transfer to the Town Hall and... My God, nearly fifty per cent of his plot, approximately 3.000m2 had to be transformed into a public park.

I uttered very softly: Yes, it is approximately 3. 000m2....He stood up slowly and said: Oh yes? I will first take my double barrel shot gun and blow your head off and then I´ll shoot that bloody Town Planning Counsellor!!

I could not see my face, but I am sure that must have been as white as my office whitewashed walls.

I rapidly tried to think why this man should not blow my head off. I could explain to him that I am carefully checking the project presented by the Planning Unit´s architect and specially all the percentages of lands that each owner has provided into the Planning Unit and that I also had checked the amount of buildable square meters that have been distributed among all members I could explain the complexity of Spanish town planning, but I needed time that I didn´t have it so.... I could only mumble: Why don´t you shoot the Counsellor first!!

There was a lethal silence and suddenly he started to laugh, nervously I joined in the gag laughing timidly with him.

After that incident he calmed down and I could explain this tempestuous man about La Ley del Suelo (The National Town Planning Regulations) which control the rights and obligations of property owners in Spain.

In his case he was affected by a Unidad de Actuación (Planning Unit) which was governed principally by the local bylaws. Normally applied to the land within a perfectly circumscribed boundary on the periphery of a built-up area, but that had no proper infrastructure built and is not adequate for developing purpose. The project presented should solve all those problems i.e. properly planned the entire zone proposed new roads, and linked them to the existing, new public parks, etc.

Coming back to our friend with the double barrel gun “attitude”, the planner had designed a public park on half of his land, so obviously he was compensated with an extra allowance of square metres of construction on his residual land to reimburse his loss. He had a smaller piece of land, but his portion of land was extremely more valuable than the original plot without planning permission. After than more of an hour of explicatory justification, he stood up and with an air of solemnity declared: Don´t worry I will not shoot you, but that bloody councillor better take care!! He turned around, and gently shut the door. I never saw him again. Thank God for that.

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