British expats in Spain desperate as basic utilities ‘cut off’: ‘Third world conditions

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With 300 days of sunshine per year and miles of stunning Mediterranean coastline, the Spanish region of Murcia is a hugely popular retirement location for British pensioners. However, for some 200 elderly retirees who have settled down in the area, their dreams have turned into a nightmare. Two decades after upping sticks to Spain, planning issues have left dozens of homeowners without access to basic services such as clean water and electricity.

The problem is that many of the properties were built without planning permission and are therefore considered “illegal” under Spanish law.

Residents in the hamlet of Gea y Truyols have claimed they are now being hit with the “severe consequences” due to the planning issues.

After years of legal wrangling and shelling out thousands of euros on lawyers, many expats in the area have now reached the end of their tether.

One retiree, Linda House, 72, blames Murcia Town Hall for the failures and penned a heartfelt plea to the local authority earlier this year.

The former company PA claimed her and her neighbours’ plight over the years had been completely ignored by the authorities.

In her letter, she wrote: “All our efforts have been in vain, and we are still living in conditions that, I am sorry to say, one would expect to find in a third world country.

“We find the situation increasingly upsetting as we are all now considerably older than when we took up residency here.”

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Originally from Essex, Linda moved into her Murcia dream home in July 2003 with her late husband, Vic, a former policeman.

Linda said they bought a plot of rural farmland, which their builder had applied for planning permission for.

Although the application was still pending, the expat said their lawyer had told them it was “safe” to build on the land and that planning permission for the plot would be granted.

For security, she and Vic agreed to sign a contract with their builder, so he would be liable for any fines incurred, as well as for covering the cost of putting in the infrastructure like roads, streetlights and sewage works.

However, 12 months into the couple’s new life in the sun, they were left “stunned” after being informed by their lawyer that the builder hadn’t signed the contract.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, she said: “No, he never signed the contract.

“She never chased him up. She never told us about it.”

In the years that followed, Linda said she and her neighbours, many of whom are in similar situations, fought tooth and nail with Murcia Town Hall to get their properties legalised, but to no avail.

Linda and her neighbours pay tax on their properties and have even been hit with fines for “retrospective planning permission”.

However, Linda claimed the residents “get nothing for” the taxes they pay.

She added: “We haven’t got any streets so they can’t clean the streets. We haven’t got any lights so they can’t turn the lights on. Nothing.”

Another British pensioner in the area, Keith Willis, 71, also does not have access to basic utilities, because his house is not legally recognised.

The retired Heathrow Airport worker from Windsor, who lives with his partner Pat, is forced to use agricultural groundwater, which is not fit for human consumption.

For the last five years the couple have relied on solar power and before that did not have any electricity.

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Like Linda, he told Express.co.uk that the local authorities should never have allowed properties to be built without planning permission, and that the Town Hall had refused to meet with their lawyers.

He said: “Murcia Town Hall is totally ignoring them and won’t come back and say, ‘yes we’ll have a meeting with them’ or something like that.

“So, it’s like a brick wall. We’re on a limb and Murcia isn’t really taking any notice of the people here.”

Spanish lawyer Gerardo Vázquez told Express.co.uk that the Town Hall “would have known” what was going on with the planning situation.

He said: “There’s a lot of people that have either allowed this to happen or are to blame.

“I wouldn’t blame the Brits though, because they don’t know the system.

“They come here in good faith. They buy properties and they end up in this nightmare.”

Murcia Town Hall has not responded to requests for comment.

However, a Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We closely engage with the Spanish Government and regional governments on matters relating to UK Nationals’ rights.

“We encourage any UK National in need of consular assistance to get in touch with their nearest Embassy / Consulate or call the 24/7 phone line for support.”

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