Catalan Government halts construction of 70,000 homes on the coast – 40,000 more to be reviewed

One-year moratorium to assess whether the projects in 30 towns are sustainable

3 min
Sitges in an archive image

BarcelonaVillas or apartment blocks on the beachfront, scattered and unconnected housing developments and houses in the middle of natural areas: the coast is full of them all, and you can't undo what has already been done. But you can try to protect what is left of the coast. With this aim, the Catalan government has approved an urban development master plan to review the sustainability of 41 municipalities' urban planning, from Malgrat de Mar to Alcanar. It is the continuation of the protection plan for the Costa Brava, which already vetoed the construction of 15,000 homes, although it also gave the green light to another 15,000. In order to carry out the review, the Generalitat will suspend the licenses for projects that could involve the construction of 70,000 homes in 30 municipalities for a maximum of one year. It will also evaluate 40,000 more in other areas. The suspension, however, will not affect urbanization or construction projects that are already underway.

The technicians of the Department of Territory will give details to the councils on the parameters of landscape integration that will have to be met by all isolated buildings to be built in the affected area from now on. But in 30 of the municipalities it will be the same department specialists themselves who will evaluate the urban planning of 335 sectors where up to 110,000 homes could be built. Once the plans have been reviewed, it will be decided whether to allow building as planned, whether to modify some requirements or whether to reclassify this land altogether and prevent building on it in order to guarantee its protection.

The review only excludes the Alt Pirineu and the Costa Brava, because these areas had already been assessed – in the first area the construction of 8,500 houses was blocked, while in the second it was 15,000 – and Barcelona metropolitan area, which due to its special characteristics will be subject to a separate review.

Five criteria

A total of 5,000 hectares of the coastline of Maresme, Garraf, Baix Penedès, Tarragonès, Baix Camp, Baix Ebre and Montsià will be reviewed. Five criteria will be taken into account when evaluating the planning for these areas: respect for the municipality's growth strategy; a contiguous location to the urban area and on flat land; affectations to the system of protected natural areas and impact on biodiversity; exposure to natural disasters, for example flooding, or proximity to a dam; compliance with Coastal Law; and impact on the preservation of the landscape.

The aim is to avoid reproducing the model of isolated housing developments, which are poorly communicated or cut off from basic services, which ended up scattered along much of the coast, making it more vulnerable to climate change, torrential rains, floods and extreme events. According to the director general of Territorial Planning and Urbanism, Agustí Serra, "this model would still be possible because many municipalities do not have their planning adapted to the most current laws, which emphasise sustainability and the reduction of land consumption and compact growth".

According to the Catalan Government's statement, the 30 municipalities where the review will be looked at most closely "are not adapted to modern land planning" and 19 have not even adapted to the 2002 urbanism law, so they are still based on "old criteria" of construction and spatial planning. It must be said that these municipalities include the city of Tarragona, whose new municipal urban planning is being examined by the courts. The department believes that once this planning is validated, the city may be excluded from the comprehensive review, because it will already meet many of the requirements that are now requested.

At the moment, the step that the Catalan Government has taken today is to get down to work with the review. Now the advance of the plan will be put to consultation, with citizens and affected councils having their say. The intention is to include the contributions in the final document that will be submitted for initial approval at the Territorial Commission of Catalonia next spring. Afterwards, a period of formal allegations will be opened and the definitive text will be submitted for approval once again.