Catalonia freezes tens of thousands of construction projects right on the coast

by Lorraine Williamson
construction projects halted in Tarragona

PROVÍNCIA DE TARRAGONA – The coast of Catalonia threatens to collapse under its buildings. New construction projects must be stopped to prevent flooding, landscape pollution and safety risks. 

On Thursday, the Catalan government submitted a bill to stop the construction of 46,800 new (housing) complexes on the coast around Tarragona. 

After the coastline of Catalonia has been built up for years with apartment buildings, houses and swimming pools, the government intervened with this large spatial planning request. This prevents the construction of 46,800 homes in 30 municipalities in the coastal zone of the province of Tarragona. In fact, all construction projects in the tourist resorts such as Sitges, El Vendrell and Torredembarra are frozen pending the final adoption of the proposed spatial regulation. 

The bill follows the example of previously adopted spatial planning regulations for the Costa Brava in the province of Girona and for the Pyrenees. There, the construction of 15,000 and 8,500 homes respectively was stopped. Moreover, the Catalan coast “is on the limit,” the government said. 

“We have to create order out of chaos” 

Agustí Serra, general director of spatial planning, explained at a press conference that this way the construction of a city like Lleida (about 140,000 inhabitants) is being stopped. “We have to create order out of chaos,” Serra said. After decades of sprawl, Catalonia wants to turn the tide in connection with the climate crisis. 

Construction that has already started can go ahead 

Where the construction of new urbanisations has already started, no action will be taken. However, the remaining 4,700 hectares of building land have been given a different purpose. Seven construction projects for new neighbourhoods, which were in the initial phase but whose construction had not yet started, are being affected. “We have taken steps to avoid developer liability.” Some project developers have started legal proceedings against the government. Although, the regional government does not release which ones exactly. 

General policy change 

However, the bill does not prevent the arrival of many more construction sites. Some 60,000 homes can still be built along the coast between Malgrat de Mar and Alcanar. But the proposal does form a marker in the urban planning policy for the coastal area of the entire region. The plan embraces the view of geographers, geologists and environmentalists that less should be built. Not only because of the large and irreversible pollution of the horizon, and the degradation of the environment, but also for safety reasons. 

Alarming government report in 2021 

Last year, the Catalan government admitted that due to poor spatial planning, the coast of Catalonia “has reached the limit”. They warned of flooding in municipalities and multimillion-dollar infrastructure. “There were many floodable areas (where construction was possible) where a stop was made”. 

See also: Catalan coast will run out of beaches 

The report also warns that more than 60% of the land is built up within 100 metres of the shoreline. The report was prepared by the Catalan government advisory body for sustainability. Furthermore, due to rising sea levels, only 20% of the coastline is now safe. 

An example of the potentially dramatic consequences is the flooding of the municipalities of Alcanar and Ulldecona last September. There was serious damage to dozens of companies and homes and to a fishing village converted into a family holiday park that was built in the floodplain a few decades ago. 

Does Barcelona remain out of the picture? 

The plan does not target the metropolitan area of ​​Barcelona and Maresme. The coast there is already so built up that there is simply no more room for new initiatives. 

Also read: Coastal residents up in arms about beach erosion

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