By Pablo Gorostiza Frieyro and Sara Ibáñez
The Spanish government has approved a reform that may reduce protection of coastal areas and free up more coastal land for development.
Over the past 25 years, coastal management in Spain has been largely regulated by the 1988 Coastal Law. This Act introduced an environmental perspective in coastal protection, representing a milestone in public coastal policies. Until then, coastal policies were marked by administrative neglect and an intense urbanization process, which led to destruction and privatization of part of the coast. The Law was drafted with the aim of guaranteeing all citizens the use and enjoyment of the coast and its environment.
Since then, the Act has provided significant advances on certain aspects such as the definition of the Public Domain, the recovery of degraded stretches of coast or the regulation of land uses both in the Public Domain and the setback zone. However, there have also been numerous obstacles and constraints to its implementation, mainly arising from the excessive delays in its implementation, insufficient coordination between administrations and absence of planning instruments that facilitate its application.
Since the Law’s entry into force, its application has been controversial. Its implementation also generated conflicts mostly related to the delimitation of the public domain, property rights and the existence of population nuclei in Public Domain. The courts have ruled mostly in favor of the State.
The reform, titled Law 2/2013 on protection and sustainable use of the coast and modification of the Coastal Law, was approved several months ago as an amendment to 1988 legislation, and the government is currently working on specific regulations that are expected to be ratified in 2014. The amendment is aimed to provide greater legal certainty, put an end to the irregular situations that still exist in the coast and, ultimately, to ensure the protection of the coast. Its adoption has been controversial, resulting in various appeals alleging unconstitutionality.
The reform brings in several changes. It has expanded the conditions under which the width of the protection zone will be narrowed to 20 meters from 100 meters, while expanding the uses permitted. It has expanded also the legal definition of the “seashore,” in effect leaving out of public domain areas of significant environmental value which until now were included in the public domain, while at the same time introducing new technical criteria for defining the limit of the public domain. Additionally, 12 nuclei of urbanization have been excluded from the public domain. Finally, the reform extends occupation concession rights for those holding them within the public domain from 30 +30 years following the application to 75; applications may be submitted until 2018.
While media attention has largely focused on the possibility of reducing the protection zone in some cases from 100 m to 20 m, the changes on the definition of the seashore could led to more profound impacts. The intention of these changes seem to be to improve the accuracy in defining the seashore, but this has generated great uncertainty about the possible influence of these new criteria on the public domain re-demarcation.
The demarcation of the Spanish coast (to date carried out along 97% of the coast’s length) has taken the Spanish government 25 years, and involved a significant amount of work and public expenditure, and many conflicts. Therefore, now that the demarcation of the Spanish coast is almost completed and approved, it seems strange to establish new criteria that may trigger a review process of the demarcation with fewer guarantees of coastal preservation. So depending on how these changes are implemented, Spain could suffer a real reduction in the protection of its coast.
It is difficult to establish ahead of time what the real reach of the effects of several of the measures included in the reform will be. While the law was being formulated, no evaluation was published on the possible consequences of reducing the Protection Zone or of changes in the criteria for demarcating the public domain.
In this sense, how the changes are implemented will be key. Specifically, the regulations developing the law will settle important details that were left hanging pending further definition, and we shall see what direction the public administrations take in implementing them.
The writers represent the Port Institute for Studies and Cooperation (FEPORTS) in Valencia, which is a partner in the EU-funded Mare Nostrum ProjectLeave a reply →