The Times 11 1 2008 

Pack in 2 hours, couple told . . . then their home was bulldozed

Thomas Catan in Madrid

Two British pensioners living in Spain have had their home demolished after
being given two hours to pack their belongings – reviving fears among
thousands of other expatriates that their own houses could be at risk.

Len and Helen Prior, both 63, moved from Berkshire to Vera, a village near
AlmerÍa, on the southern coast of Spain, six years ago, investing their life
savings in a £350,000 home. They gained planning permission for their
project from the town hall but the regional government of Andalusia insisted
that the home had been built on protected greenbelt land and had to be

Despite threats from the regional authorities, the Priors' solicitor had
repeatedly assured them that their home would be safe. On Wednesday morning,
however, a dozen police officers stood guard as a mechanical digger moved
in. The couple were given two hours to clear out their belongings before
their home was bulldozed.

Mr Prior, who suffers from a heart condition, collapsed and was taken to a
nearby hospital. He was later discharged and the couple were staying with
neighbours yesterday.

"We're devastated," Mr Prior said. "This has been our home for almost six
years. To have it pulled down in front of you is painful beyond belief. We
sold a beautiful house in Berkshire to move over here six years ago so that
we could enjoy the weather and the Spanish lifestyle. Now we wish that we
had just stayed put.

"It has turned into a nightmare. Our home is just a pile of rubble and we
have nowhere to go."

Mrs Prior, a retired computer programmer, said: "I stayed behind and watched
the house and garden being torn down. It was quite horrendous. We have
invested so much time, effort and money in it. The garden was my pride and
joy and took us years to complete. I am very, very angry."

The Priors have received no compensation from the regional authorities, but
plan to pursue a claim through the courts. Another ten homes in the
neighbourhood are reported to have been threatened with demolition.

Many villagers watched in horror as the three-bedroom house, which had a
swimming pool, was reduced to rubble. "It was absolutely unbelievable," said
a neighbour, who asked to remain anonymous. "Everybody in the area just
feels totally sick."

Though many British homeowners in Spain are facing legal problems, the
demolition of property belonging to expatriates has so far been rare. But
the move by Andalusia's regional government has heightened fears that they
could become much more common in future.

"I hope that it's not a sign of worse things to come," said Charles Svoboda,
a retired Canadian diplomat who campaigns against Valencia's "Land Grab"

"There is no legal certainty in Spain. It is certainly not going to improve
the country's reputation for being a place to which you can retire in

Yesterday the inhabitants of Vera expressed particular outrage at how the
Priors' home was destroyed. "It was the way it was done. To give somebody
two hours to get their belongings out – it's inhumane. It's not the way
things are done," a neighbour said.

The local mayor, Félix López Caparrós, said that the Priors had fallen
victim to a planning dispute between the town hall and the regional
government. "We have become the scapegoat in this battle," he added.

He said that the demolition was illegal because the regional authorities had
not awaited the verdict of a court appeal.

A spokesman for the regional government of Andalusia said that he had no
information on the incident
The Guardian,  11 1 2008

Britons' retirement villa levelled

Paul Hamilos in Madrid

A retired British couple watched in horror as their dream house on the
southern coast of Spain was bulldozed because of a planning row with local
authorities that could see hundreds of other holiday homes razed. Len and
Helen Prior sold their family home in Berkshire to move to Spain in 2002.
Mr Prior said yesterday: "We sold a beautiful house in Berkshire to move
here. Now we wish we had stayed put. It has turned into a nightmare. Our
home is just a pile of rubble and we have nowhere to go."

Mr Prior, a 63-year-old retired computer programmer, had received planning
permission from the town council in the village of Vera, Almeria, but the
regional government of Andalucia says the house was built illegally on green
belt land.
Two years ago the government won a court order for demolition, which was
carried out on Wednesday. A spokesman for the Andalucian government said:
"We only demolish houses built illegally."

Francisco Paco of Irwin Mitchell, a law firm specialising in Spanish
property law, said: "Local authorities have given licences to individuals
for land that should be protected.

"The buyer therefore believes that what they are doing is legal, but they
later discover that the land should never have been built on."



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but merely conveys general information related to issues commonly encountered.