The UK's Minister for Europe visits Malaga

Last weekend, Chris Bryant, Britain’s Minister for Europe visited Andalucía. Speaking exclusively to SUR in English, Bryant said there were three principal reasons for his trip. “Firstly, I wanted to listen to a range of issues which are affecting British expats in Spain; secondly I came to put some pressure on the Spanish authorities to resolve some long-standing property issues; and thirdly to appoint two additional civil servants to advise Brits on legal matters relating to property and social services,” he said.

The new Civil Servants will be based at the British Consulates in Malaga and Alicante and will be paid for by the Spanish government. “They are Spanish experts in these fields and they know the system inside out. The goal is to prevent any further legal issues developing like the ones I have seen in Albox, Almeria,” added Bryant.

Earlier in the day, the Minister visited four British families in Albox whose homes have been threatened with a demolition order as, according to the Junta de Andalucía, they were built illegally. “There are eight British households in that area but probably around 500 homes are affected by this. They are not all British either. Many other Northern European nationalities have been caught up in this problem and, of course, Spanish families too.”
During his visit, Bryant went to the home of John and Muriel Burns. “It is these kinds of people we’re trying to help – the people who dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s when they were buying and went through all the correct channels as they were told to do. The local government had issued licences and then the regional government stepped in, following a court order and said that they should never have done so, thereby making the homes effectively illegal. It is extremely distressing for these families. John and Muriel are in their eighties and they’re worried they will lose everything. It is heart-breaking, really.”

Whilst in Albox, the Minister met with the Mayor, José Navarro García, who towards the end of last year described the proposed demolition of the eight British owned homes as “barbaric.” He said in December: “I believe the Junta de Andalucía has leaned heavily on the Supreme Court to obtain this decision and I cannot understand why. Demolition is a barbaric solution and I do not know who would benefit from it. We will explore every legal possibility to stop this barbarity.”

Bryant says he is now hopeful that the homes of the eight famililes in Albox will be safe but that the problem is widespread. “These are just the tip of the iceberg. But I think the Spanish regional and national governments are now more focused on having these issues resolved,” he said.

Chris Bryant told SUR in English that finding “real solutions” to property issues, like the ones affecting John and Muriel Burns, would help improve the Spanish economic situation.

“The economy of Spain will not be resuscitated until we have these kinds of things sorted. The Spanish economy is dependent upon tourism and people buying properties. Images of bulldozers going in and demolishing family homes is not going to help,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done in the housing market here.” Bryant also noted the decline in the number of British tourists to visit Spain, going from 17 million in 2008 to around 11 million in 2009. “We need a combined approach between the local, regional and national authorities to avoid any further problems. We’re hopeful that the appointment of these new people in our consulates in Malaga and Alicante will help coordinate the various governing bodies.”

At a press conference in Malaga, Bryant was joined by the Spanish Secretary of State, Gaspar Zarrías, and Juan Cejas, leader of the Junta de Andalucía’s Housing and Town Planning Department where he said “legal experts would ensure the real estate interests of Brits.”

Zarrías, meanwhile, stressed that the agreement should be viewed as “a preventive information service” to avoid problems as “once these cases enter into the judicial machinery it is more difficult to reach solutions.” The Junta de Andalucía will provide and pay for the extra staff although the British Embassy will be responsible for the material costs.

Communication and votes
Having spent part of his childhood in Madrid and Bilbao, Chris Bryant describes himself as “a Brit who loves Spain” and says he understands why so many British people choose to live in the country. Being able to speak Spanish has also been advantageous. “I think speaking fluent Spanish helps in these kinds of situations too. It helps break down some of the barriers. It just helps everyone reach an understanding more effectively,” he adds. “This is why the civil servants coming to help us in a couple of weeks will be a great help: they speak the language, know the rules and rights and know the system at every level.”

The Minister said that he had heard many opinions and views from British people who reside in Spain during his brief visit and that he and his team “would work hard to make sure things get done.” He was also keen to point out that it is the “obligation of British expats to register themselves at their local Town Hall” and that they should “exercise their right to vote.”

Chris Bryant MP is the Minister of State for Europe and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He has been the Member of Parliament for Rhondda since 2001 and is the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons.

Chris spent his childhood in Madrid, Bilbao, Cardiff and Cheltenham. He speaks fluent Spanish and describes himself as “a Brit who loves Spain.”

Source: Sur in English

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