The Cabrera land grab – a look at how it worked

Costa Almería News broke the news this week that Mayor Morales of Turre had signed a decree to take over the running of Cabrera village. What does this actually mean? I had a read of some documents to find out.

First off, let’s explain the situation.

Cabrera isn’t run by the council (although home-owners still have to pay IBI). Instead, it’s technically a partially finished urbanisation, which means it’s run by a junta de compensación, a legal entity formed of land-owners within the urbanisable area. When the whole thing is finished to legal standards 100%, it would be turned over to the council to be run as if it were just another part of the main village. In the meantime, the running of the place is up to the Junta. A critical point this: until it’s finished 100%, the town won’t take it over.

Some land-owners are home-owners, and some are developers. Under the current system, approved in 1993, voting rights are issued by square metres of land owned, but payments for the upkeep of the place is based on land ownership. Long story short: home-owners have to pay most of the money, while voting is controlled by the large land-owners (the developers).

This has led to a situation where a fair number – around 38 I think – of the properties up there are technically illegal, being hooked up to developers water and electricity and not possessing fin de obra certificates, because the Junta won’t spend the tens of thousands of euros needed to install the infrastructure to give them mains utilities.

The place is, as I said, about a fourth finished. The builders aren’t doing much at the moment, until the next building boom. There seems to be a lot of infighting amongst owners, some of whom want it finished and others don’t.

So how to proceed?

Morales’ bet has always been to change the way the place is run. He wanted to change the entity into a junta de cooperación. But this is a major, major change which effectively turns all land-owners into developers. Under the compensación scheme the developer pays for the infrastructure costs, and the purchasers pay for maintenance costs, until the place is finished. So keeping the old way allowed the promoters to coast along without having to much money into the common maintenance pot, and they were able to block any proposals to pay lots of cash out if they didn’t want to.

Now, it would be logical to assume that since the infrastructure hasn’t been finished, the builders should be forced to do this. But they refused point blank, safe in the knowledge that the only way to force their hands would be to take them to court, which couldn’t be done as this would force the Judge to take action on the illegal homes issue (and would be lengthy, costly etc). There’s also the issue of fairness – why should builder A pay to fix the problems caused by builder B? A difficult judicial question which would keep the técnicos and abogados busy for years!

One option, which Morales suggested, was to over-turn the 1993 agreement which regulated voting rights. This was supposed to go to a plenary meeting last Tuesday. The PSOE, Morales’ partners in the ruling body, pointed out that simply voting to overturn this agreement wasn’t much good without a concrete plan of action to replace it, and no plan had been suggested.

Anyway, this turned out to be a red herring, as Morales went ahead on his own on the Monday and signed an executive order to transform the Junta into a cooperación – without telling anyone. Since this rendered the 1993 agreement moot, the plenary meeting was dropped so as not to waste everyone’s time.

I should point out that Morales’ decision was backed by no fewer than eight different official requests from various Cabrera residents and organisations to take this course of action.

What this means (in summary) is that the town council is now in charge of finishing Cabrera. The council is running the show and must stump up the cash, then clawing it back from the owners. All owners must pay their share according to the square meterage owned, and if you don’t pay you become a debtor to the council and can be embargoed.

So, how much is all this likely to cost?

The council report estimates that finishing off Cabrera will cost the council €3.109.589,75 (note the seventy five cents!!!). Upgrading and finishing the infrastructure which is missing is not included in this cost and is an “unknown quantity”. Cabrera is about 39% finished, according to the council.

Majority landowners cited by the council up there are:

  • Sierra Leisure SL 44.87%
  • Active Retirement Villages Ltd 35%
  • Fortview Properties Ltd 1.17%
  • Promociones Vera Mojacar y Garrucha SL 2.52%
  • Promociones Mataix SA 4.3%
  • Promociones Mataix SA (Banco Andalucia) 3.55%
  • Segundo Ramirez Perez 8.55%

The rest of the land belongs to the council and to home-owners.

In all, there are 53.274 m2 of built land (as measured by the square meterage of roof) available up there in polígono 1, over 547.078 m2 of urbanisable land. An estimation of “the costs of execution and maintenance of the system is approximately €63/m2”.

Morales has suggested in La Voz that the council will urbanise part of its land first, then sell the land to a builder to gain funds for council projects. This seems to ensure that the land will be sold at a loss, given the current lack of demand for building land, but it’s not my decision. He also estimated in Costa Almería news that the upper end of the cost per average home-owner would be €700-€1.200 annually for maintenance and further development costs (I don’t know how he got that figure – taking the €63 figure from above, which doesn’t include maintenance costs, this means the average house has 15 square metres of roof?).

Now, the council report signed by Morales recommends not to do take over the urbanisation, for as the town clerk points out that Turre lost €1.5 million last year and isn’t in a position to take on a €3.1 million debt. Nor does it have “human or technical capacity” for the project. Since the town is barred from setting up a running company, it will have to outsource the job of building and then take on the task of making sure everything is going smoothly. Turre is a town that takes eight months to give you a permit to put a fence up – do you really think this bankrupt, inefficient, bloated waste of a council is going to be able to efficiently overview a project of this size and complexity? (Sorry, personal opinion crept in there!)

Will this go ahead?

Well, it’s difficult to say.

The report says that the immediate legal course of action to take is to finish the homes which haven’t been connected to utilities and other lacking infrastructure. So the council will have to stump out a vast amount of money to do that right away, and try to claw it back from the owners. There is no budget for this in the 2016 town budget, meaning no action can legally start until a new budget is signed in 2017 (after Morales leaves office). And the money can’t be assigned without special approval from the central Ministry of Hacienda, because Turre town is bankrupt and under special supervisory measures from the central government. Who aren’t likely to be pleased with this measure to spend even more money.

I rather suspect the main interested parties will take this decision to court. Given that the town clerk recommends against it, and the obvious financial problems of the council, I would suspect the decision is likely to be overturned by the courts unless the council fights tooth and nail. And given that Morales is out in February, and none of the other parties seem interested in the fight, I rather expect Cabrera to be in a difficult position of not being able to maintain anything until the court battle ends.

And during the long years this will take, the place will probably subside even further into the mire.

What happens now?

Short term, all land owners affected should receive a letter from the council. Their inscription in the land registry will be modified to take note of the new regime they are subject to, and owners have 20 days to file allegations against this decision by the mayor.

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5 thoughts on “The Cabrera land grab – a look at how it worked

  1. There are many properties that have entered into contracts with the builder but haven’t been connected to the mains electricity for 10 years due to the incomplete state of the current requirements for pavements throughout the estate despite many new areas being up to “standard”.They rely on Builders electricity which prevents them from choosing a cheaper supply or tariff as well as complicating any property sale.

    The sensible solution would be for those in authority to provide a dispensation so these properties could become legal while the status of the Junta is resolved

  2. Unfortunately there are a few inaccuracies in David Jackson’s detailed article. The first is that Turre Town Hall were never intending to take over the costs of maintaining the completed village. The original project specifies that on completion the costs of maintenance will be by an Entidad de Conservacion. In effect, home owners pay into a local fund which pays for any necessary maintenance work. The Town Hall will not therefore incur any ongoing maintenance costs.

  3. The cancelled plenary meeting last Tuesday: You comment that The PSOE Morales partners stated that to overturn the 1993 agreement was not much good without a concrete plan to replace it. The meeting was called as a result of the Diputacion de Almeria informing the Town Hall that the 1993 agreement is illegal and needed to be revoked. The concrete plan to replace it should be with the current Junta de Compensacion Statutes inscribed in the registry of the Urbanistic Entities of Andalucia.

  4. The Diputacion did not inform – a Diputacion lawyer gave her non binding opinion on the matter, an opinion sought by the council. She did not enter into the question of what would substitute the agreement, but I am given to understand that the junta would need to select and vote upon an agreement.

  5. Ok, I have no idea what the original plan says about that. However, I didn’t go into that and didn’t mention any running costs.
    Thanks for bringing it up.

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