Map showing private illegal development in a protected coastal area.

Mapped: Illegal Developments in Galicia

Showcasing a concerning territorial mismanagement and a worrying lack of coordination between local, regional and national government, illegal developments on the Spanish coastal line have increased by 33% in the last 25 years. (Source: IGN – Instituto Geografico Nacional). In response to this, various NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations), operating in the affected areas have launched several campaigns over the past few years in defense of the coastline environmental protection. In its annual report, Greenpeace- Spain states that an area equivalent of a football pitch has been built per year in the last two decades, along the coast.

NGO’s have warned about the government’s inefficiency to enforce the Regional Planning Legislation, which recognizes the coastline’s great ecological value and aims to protect it. The innumerable list of territorial infractions during the last few years clearly bears out the huge gap between having a legislation - as a crucial instrument to protect the environment - and its actual application from the local and regional councils.

The Regional Legislation of 1981 was the very first instrument created to protect the Spanish coastline and its ecological value. However, by the time the law came into force some buildings were already settled in the first 200-meter-width strip from the shoreline. This early law had integrated those buildings in a frame of legality (with restrictions) due to the fact that they already existed before the regulation. This study focuses on what has been happening after the first coastal planning regulation.

The present study uses satellite imagery taken in two different years (2003 and 2013) to detect structural changes in an area of special environmental interest: a 1-kilometer coastal line in Brava Beach, Galicia. The area of study was chosen for its complex geomorphological structure of (i) sandy beach (ii) dunes formations, and (iii) lagoon, which is home to a rich number of animal and plant species.
The results show the different patterns and stages of a number of illegal developments in this area of Brava Beach (Galicia). In this particular case, the infractions seem to be deliberately undertaken by individuals rather than tourism corporations. The stages of these illegal developments are: (i) The settlement of a basic small shed (usually a static caravan to spend the summer time), (ii) the plantation of closing hedges to block the view and hide the property, (iii) transformation, (iv) improvement of the shed structure including roofing development and expansion and transformation of a shed into a low quality house.

Because of its organic development through different stages, these type of infractions are very hard to detect and follow up. Moreover, the fact that this part of the coast is far from the town center (municipally) also leads to a lower control and therefore an easier field to break the legislation.

As a result the satellite imagery detects at least 10 infractions between 2003 and 2013 in only 1 kilometer of coastline.

There are also evidences showing that the owners are actually aware of the satellite sensor’s capabilities to actually spot their infractions. In fact, the roofs of many of these shed-houses were painted in green in an attempt of camouflaging the structure among the nature. In some cases it might work, but usually the shades of the building clearly indicates the presence of a structure regardless the roofing color.

This study shows an example of what has been happening in a 10-year-period in Brava Beach. This can lead to a safe assumption that the situation was the same before and after the present report’s time-frame.

These type of illegalities have also been seen on other parts of the Galician coastline in the last decades. EL PAIS published in 2008 an article that shows the same modus operandi in the Northern city of Ferrol. Ángel Mato, the council’s head of town planning gives an important point regarding the institutional miscoordination to aboard this issue. He states that even though local and regional governments have a certain grade of competence, the Ministry of Interior (Central Government) has the last word to take any decision on costal protection issues and that this multi -legislative competence has been causing inefficiency to aboard the real issue.