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Last Updated: Monday, 8 August 2005, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Sunset for Spanish property dreams
Alan and Jane Brian
The Brians say their lawyers did not tell them about the flood plain
A staggering 500 people a day leave the UK in search of a new beginning abroad, the majority choosing Spain for what they hope will be cheaper property and a better life.

But for some, the dream turns sour. BBC One's Real Story met one couple who sank their life savings into land which turned out to be worthless.

Alan and Jane Brian sold their home in Buckinghamshire, left their jobs and flew to Pedrera, north of Malaga, to set up a business.

They paid 114, 000 euros (78,889) for two acres of barren wasteland where they planned to build an upmarket caravan park. Their target clients were those looking to experience the real Spain rather than an English resort in the sun.

An environmental man told us, 'Your house.....is illegal
Alan Brian
"We were planning to have orange and lemon trees so that people could come and pick their own," said Brian.

"We got the chickens so that they could come and buy the eggs."

But cracks started to appear in their plans shortly after they had agreed to pay 78,000 euros (53,976) to a builder for a new house on the land.

Local police visited to request planning permission papers - but the builders assured the Brians that everything was fine so they paid 68,000 euros (47,054) for the work done so far.

They were not given receipts or proof of planning permission.

High speed train

Just as the cement was drying, they discovered their new house was partly built on someone else's land - and the owners wanted it back.

Faced with having to demolish a metre of the house or pay the money, they agreed instead to give up some of their land as compensation.

But the battle was not over. The new property was also built on the access road to a neighbouring olive grove to which four people had right of way.

Passing tractors scraped the Brians' pool.

I think the major difficulty people have stems from not doing their homework before they come out
British Consul Russell Thompson
Meanwhile, a new high speed train line was being built just over the brow of the hill.

Then, after heavy rainfall, it suddenly became clear there was no chance of the house ever getting planning permission.

It was built on a flood plain.

"An environmental man told us, 'Your house is too close to the river - it is illegal,'" recalled Alan.

"We were told the river does burst its banks and has been as high as 3 to 4 foot - which is just under the windowsills of the house."

The Brians' story is a suprisingly common one in Southern Spain.

British Consul Russell Thompson
British Consul Russell Thompson deals with many property nightmares
According to the Head of Municipal Communities of Costa Del Sol, Juan Sanchez, as many as 50,000 illegal homes have been built there in recent years by developers or individuals who have not sought permission.

The British consul in Alicante, Russell Thompson, has 150 active cases where people have been conned or have not complied with Spanish law.

"I think the major difficulty people have stems from not doing their homework before they come out.

"We have a very good website and there are others available. People have no excuse for not doing their homework."

Prosecution warning

In Spain, it is up to the homeowner to ask the town hall if a problem exists.

The Mayor of Pedrera told Real Story that the Brains' builder was respected locally - and that it was up to them to check for planning permission.

The advice, says Alan, has come too late.

"We're told that we can be prosecuted and told to leave because the site isn't suitable for a permanent dwelling.

"So the land that we've spent our life savings on is now a complete farce."

Real Story - The pain in Spain: BBC ONE, Monday 8 August, 2005 at 193O BST.

Buying a property abroad
06 Aug 02 |  Working Lunch


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