What you should know about planning in Spain | Part 1

It is known by all that Spanish town planning is in a deep crisis. The aspects that have led to this situation are varied: the search for municipalities additional funding of public services, which has produced, criminal behaviours by the local politicians and civil servants, the absence of effective instruments of coordination between regional and the State jurisdiction; the narrow scope of the State in this area, individual local authority actions without prior planning, etc.


Focusing the problem in the sector of tourism in its wider sense, town planning policies developed in Spain has provided many economic benefits in the short and long term, but has demonstrated to be clumsy and inept in contributing to a comprehensive and sustainable model.


For property developments to be user friendly, economic, ecological, culturally and socially acceptable, must start from a comprehensive territorial planning. If we analyze this issue from the visitor point of view, looking at sectors such as town planning, tourism, natural and historic environment, coastal management, etc we will quickly find that Spain has a fragmented autonomous territorial system that impedes the system to function correctly.


Rivalry between different departments of a same Regional Administration.

This idiosyncrasy is taken to the absurd when we can even detect rivalry between different departments of a same Regional Administration. There is a flood of regional and state laws on environmental, technical, urban planning and local regulations, and all of these bills and regulations change every four to eight years, needing the professional planner to make a continuous effort just to keep updated.


Having said all that, I also believe that newcomer to Spain needs to make an attempt to understand the Spanish peculiarities of planning laws.


A major difference which in my experience predisposes the Expat to enter in swampy ground is the figure of the property developer. While in the UK the Local Planning Authority (LPA) undertake the responsibility to provide the necessary infrastructure needed for a housing estate, in Spain this task is left to the property developer to make available that infrastructure which must be first fully specify in an Urbanization Project (Proyecto de Urbanización). These subtle differences entail a number of repercussions which affect the property buyer o final user.


As the process of obtaining planning approval proceeds is very extensive, each plot on the future development inherits a charge which is proportional to the total cost of all the future infrastructure shown on the previously approved Urbanization Project or (Proyecto de Urbanización), these charges are meticulously set out in a Restructure Project (Proyecto de Reparcelación) which requires to be approved by the local authorities before planning permission is granted. Consequently if any one purchase a plot of land during this process, is automatically converted into a property developer i.e. the plot of land has acceded to the proportional charge of the entire infrastructure until it that infrastructure is executed and most important, it has been accepted and received by the local authorities.


Such incident is difficult to occur in the UK.

Such incident is difficult to occur in the UK since the cost of a plot of land o a building for that matter has already been implemented with the cost of the future infrastructure that the local planning authority will undertakes and works like this:

Under Section 106 (S106) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 a local planning authority (LPA) is allowed to enter into a legally-binding agreement or planning obligation with a landowner with the granting of planning permission. The obligation is termed as Section 106 Agreement.


This agreement is a way of delivering all that is necessary to make a development acceptable in planning terms. They are increasingly used to support the provision of services and infrastructure, such as roads, infrastructures services, recreational facilities, education, health and affordable housing.


The scope of such agreements is laid out in the government’s Circular 05/2005. Matters agreed as part of a S106 must be:

  • Relevant to the planning proposal.
  • Necessary to make the proposed development acceptable in planning terms.
  • Directly related to the proposed development.
  • Fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the proposed development. 
  • Reasonable in all other respects.

A council’s approach to securing benefits through the S106 process should be grounded in evidence-based policy.

The Spanish Land Law (Ley del Suelo) regulates the rights and obligations that all owners have on any type of land in Spain they may posses. It is the cornerstone of town planning, as it regulates the right to build and the metrology to calculate any land value. The first Spanish land law was approved in 1956 and most recently in 2008.


Although the main attributions of planning have been delegated to the regional governments the basic rights and obligations are found in this Ley del Suelo of 1998. We will explore this an other town planning laws in future issues.


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