“We are not going to let the problem with our house kill us”

The Paynes, seated on the left showing their planning permission and escritura

A seventy year old couple face the demolition of their house in spite of having planning permission

December 25th 2009, Christmas Day, brought no gifts, much less happiness to the Payne household. Rather the complete opposite. This English couple made up of Noel and Christine Payne (76 and 73 years old respectively) could not begin to imagine the turn their lives would take from that date.

Whilst in the surrounding houses the paper on presents was being unwrapped and copious family meals were being enjoyed, the Payne’s house, situated in the area of Los Guillenes (Albox) received a visit from the police who delivered the news. Their house was illegal and in a judicial process which was going to end with a demolition request.

The nightmare begins

 “We bought the house in 2001. Before that we went to the Town Hall to ask about a construction permit and they told us yes, there would be no problem”, relates the couple almost in unison in the interior of their house that the Junta the Andalusia has asked the Consistory to demolish.

They not only have municipal planning permission. They also show the license of first occupation signed in 2003 by the then Mayor Francisco Granero “in conformity” with the Planning Laws of Andalusia (LOUA). Documents that became wastepaper after the modification of the LOUA, which changed the criteria for constructions on rustic land. 

Nothing has prevented this event from ending in a court order that asks for the house to be reduced to rubble and with a request from the regional government to comply. The Town Hall has informed the Junta that after the most recent changes to the planning laws the house can be granted an AFO (asimilada fuera de ordenacion) to regularize its situation. Nothing has changed.

But the Junta says that they are not buyers in good faith. Something which powerfully draws your attention given that the couple have the necessary permissions and never hid anything. Other nearby houses, on the other hand, did not advertise their existence and today have been regularized. In that case, those who try to do things legally, are those who end up paying the price for the urban chaos of the last decade. It should be remembered that that recent legislative changes require compensation for these buyers in the case of demolition.

Always legal

“We always want to be legal but if we had no planning permission we would not have a problem. We looked into everything, we checked the licences and permissions…..We were wrong to do so. It makes no sense” laments Christine.

In fact, neighbouring houses constructed without planning permission have not had legal proceedings given that the Ministry of the Environment did not know of their existence. The couple are accompanied by the President of the association of those affected, Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora-No, Maura Hillen, and by its legal advisor, Gerardo Vazquez.

“I do not understand the Junta’s position. How is a demolition going to help? What sort of message will it send to the World? It will result in terrible human and economic damage for this area” according to the President of AUAN.

Previous demolitions

The lawyer recalls previous demolitions such as the ones which took place in Cantoria in 2014 to illustrate the uselessness of this type of decision with regard to the restoration of the environment. “They demolished these houses and the area has not been restored; the environment has not been restored”. The two seventy year old Britons respond in unison with a single word when asked how their life has been since 25th December 2009. “Terrible”, they respond immediately.

To the anguish of one day seeing their house converted into a pile of rubble, one can add the economic impossibility of returning to their home country. “If we had the money we would go back. From 2009 this problem is on our minds all the time. It has caused health problems such as high blood pressure” says Christine; Noel continues. “We wake up at four o’clock in the morning and start to think about it. We cannot sleep any more” “The family want us to return home”, confesses the wife, Christine, who is able to smile when she thinks of her great grandson.

In the case of an unexpected turn of events and the house was finally saved, they would like to sell it and return to England, although they confess that “we love living here and the people are wonderful” so perhaps “we would take our time selling it”, without discounting the possibility that they would stay in the same house where they currently are unable to sleep.

Same as the Priors

The paradox goes beyond the problems caused by following the legal channels. Noel and Christine belonged to AUAN before they even knew they had a problem their house. They actively participated in supporting the Priors whose house in Vera was demolished in 2008. A case similar to the Payne’s in that they also had planning permission.

“It is a very difficult situation. We know that people have died from stress in situations similar to our own. But we are not going to let it kill us” states Christine with conviction in her words. “We do not understand the Junta’s report. We have not caused damage to anyone”, she stresses.

However, “the town halls understand the damage”, says Vazquez speaking about the intention of the Town Hall to regularise the house. Society, for some years, has also understood the problem. Yet again, the laws and those who legislate seem to be going backwards.

Original story La Voz de Almeria