The Catalan coast deserves better treatment

2 min
An image of Cambrils

From the tourist boom of the 1960s to the present day, the urban exploitation of the coast has continued virtually unchecked. Beyond some emblematic but very limited territorial actions, such as the natural parks of Cap de Creus, Aiguamolls de l'Empordà and Montgrí-Medes-Baix Ter in the north, the Llobregat Delta next to El Prat airport –now under threat– or the Ebro Delta in the south, the Catalan coast has suffered continuous constructive pressure for more than half a century, both under the dictatorship and during democracy. Protected natural areas have too often been used as a pretext to give other spaces a free hand to intrusive and very intensive building. Construction as an economic driving force, the need for income for historically underfunded local councils, the slow and hesitant environmental awareness and the tourist monoculture of many regions have been the factors that have caused the great urban spread that the Catalan coast has become.

Only now, in the wake of the global climate crisis, with the addition of the tourist disaster due to the pandemic, has there been a real shift in public opinion and, as a result, a political step forward in protecting the coastline. This step was taken with two main arguments: to safeguard the natural landscape and to avoid future catastrophic effects such as those we have recently witnessed in Cases d'Alcanar as a result of the increasingly common torrential downpours and the possibility of a rise in sea level. Another important objective is to put an end to the model of isolated housing developments which are poorly communicated or cut off from basic services, a type of urban development that is economically unsustainable.

In 2019, the Catalan Govern passed a first urban planning moratorium on the Costa Brava, where it finally ruled against the construction of 15,000 of the 30,000 homes planned. Now, it is now doing the same in the south. From Malgrat de Mar to Cambrils, the Generalitat will suspend licenses for 70,000 homes in 30 municipalities for a year. Some 5,000 hectares of the coastline of Maresme, Garraf, Baix Penedès, Tarragonès, Baix Camp, Baix Ebre and Montsià will be reviewed. In addition, government officials will evaluate projects for 40,000 homes in other areas. The suspension, however, will not affect the urbanization or construction projects that are already underway. A total of 110,000 flats, terraced houses or chalets, the vast majority designed for tourist use or second homes were going to be built in the area. Faced with this new urbanistic avalanche, the Department of Territorial Policy will either modify the requirements to build on these lands, and therefore limit its scope, or directly reclassify a part of them. It is a brave step that sends a clear message for the future: the land is not unlimited. The Catalan coast deserves better treatment than we have given it for decades. Better late than never