After decades of filling the coast with cement and swimming pools, Catalonia is putting the brakes on massive seafront urbanization. The Generalitat first approved this Thursday another urban master plan (this one now mainly affects the Tarragona coast) to avoid the construction of 46,800 new homes in 30 municipalities. In practice, this means that all building permits and urban projects in the initial stages, flying over 105 sectors of tourist municipalities such as Sitges (Garraf), El Vendrell (Baix Penedès) or Torredembarra (Tarragonès), have been frozen until the final approval of the rule. The pre-project follows in the footsteps of a project approved more than a year ago on the Costa Brava (Girona), which prevented the construction of 15,000 new homes, and another in the Pyrenees, which prevented 8,500. The Catalan coast, the government itself admits, is “at the limit”.
The Director General of Spatial Planning, Agustí Serra, told a press conference this Thursday that building as big as the city of Lleida should be avoided. “We want to bring order,” Serra said, adding that after decades of over-urbanization, Catalonia needs to reverse the situation in the context of the climate emergency. “It is a very important step to eliminate the rampant urbanism of the past decades,” added the Director-General.
The plan does not stop work on new developments already under construction, but changes the classification of 4,700 hectares to prevent developers from initiating plans to build them. It concerns seven projects for new developments which were in the initial phase although work had not yet started. “We carried out a technical engineering process to avoid financial liability with the promoters,” Serra said, adding that some Costa Brava businessmen had taken legal action against the Generalitat after last year’s veto, although he did not revealed which one.
However, the draft will not prevent more cranes appearing on the coast in the future: the reduction of permits for 46,800 possible new homes is possible to a total of 106,000. If the project promoters and communities have the will, 60,000 more houses can therefore be built along the 300 kilometers of coast between Malgrat de Mar and Alcanar in the coming decades.
Beyond the total number of licenses definitively paralyzed, the plan represents a before and after in coastal urban politics throughout the municipality: from the Cap de Creus to the mouth of the Ebro River.The plan contains the thesis defended by geographers , geologists and Environmental activists that the Mediterranean community must stop construction, not only because of the profound and irreparable visual impact it will bring, but also for safety reasons.
The Generalitat admitted in a report commissioned last year that the Catalan coast has been “challenged to its limits” by poor planning, warning of risks of flooding in communities and million-dollar infrastructure like the Rodalies R1. “In communities like El Vendrell or Cambrils, a lot of flood plains (which could be built on) have been stopped,” Serra said.
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The Generalitat also warned in the 2021 report that 60% of the commune’s coastline is built up within the first 100 meters. The document, prepared by the Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia (Cads), a government advisory body on sustainability, also confirmed that only 20% of the coast is safe from sea level rise. A paradigmatic example and the most serious recent case was the flooding of Alcanar and Ulldecona, two municipalities bordering the Valencian Community, which caused damage to dozens of businesses and houses. An old fishing village converted to family tourism has paid the community for the consequences it built decades ago in ravines that overflowed after a storm.
For reasons of competence, the city revision plan does not affect the metropolitan area of Barcelona. In the Maresme region, with 15 municipalities affected, the potential number of dwellings will be less reduced. This is because, Department of the Territory sources explain, the area is already over-developed, leaving only a few acres to be released.