More than 1,600 swimming pools under construction this year in arid Catalonia

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swimming pool in construction

Despite a historic drought and tightened water restrictions due to the drought emergency, where filling (or topping up) of swimming pools is strictly prohibited, Catalan municipalities continue to receive applications for building permits.

In Barcelona alone, 68 permits were applied for last year. Other municipalities such as Matadepera, Tiana and Palafrugell report similar figures. In Sitges the increase is striking. There, every new residential permit is accompanied by an application for a swimming pool. This year, the Spanish swimming pool sector, represented by the Asociación Española de Profesionales del Sector Piscinas (Asofap), expects to build ‘only’ 1,600 new pools in Catalonia. Which is a decrease of 82% compared to normal annual production.

Licensing and water restrictions

Municipalities are legally obliged to grant building permits if projects comply with urban development regulations. However, this situation puts mayors in a difficult position. They warn applicants that while the construction of swimming pools is permitted, filling them with water is prohibited due to current drought restrictions. This has led to frustration among citizens and even to reports of violations by neighbours.

Palafrugell Mayor Juli Fernández has announced that the municipality will not grant new construction permits for swimming pools for a year. Other municipalities are considering similar measures. Or they emphasise the restrictions in their permits. Meanwhile, in some luxury villas under construction, the swimming pools are already being filled, despite the lack of clarity on how this is possible given current regulations.

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Impact on the sector

The chairman of Asofap, paints a picture of the sector in Spain. It is the third world power, with 1.5 million swimming pools (200,000 in Catalonia). Only the United States and France have more pools. There are 2,000 companies (650 in Catalonia), including manufacturers, builders and maintenance companies, employing 40,000 people. If swimming pools cannot be filled, they will not require maintenance. The drought is therefore hitting the sector in Catalonia. “The forecast for the construction of pools in Catalonia in 2024 will be only 1,600, which will not be able to be filled.” These figures are a far cry from the 9,000 new swimming pools of recent years. For the whole of Spain it amounts to 28,000 per year. “We are concerned about the impact,” Arrébola acknowledges, both in terms of construction and maintenance.

Yet both emphasise that the sector has done its homework well in the field of sustainability and energy. The swimming pools have “a very efficient use of water”. Furthermore, Arrébola emphasises that the majority of users do not have one at home, but use communal or public pools. “In Spain there are 1.5 million pools, 1.3 of which are at homes, but the rest of the citizens also swim,” he summarises.

Asofap asks governments like the Generalitat to listen to them. “We are the sector, but we understand the reality and ask for flexibility.” Things like ‘buying water in places where there is a surplus’, for example. And one last piece of information from Arrébola: “If you compare the storage capacity of all reservoirs in Spain with that of all swimming pools, they only need 0.15% of the total water.”

Also read: What role do swimming pools play in drought-stricken Spain?

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